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          Front Page




Program at Presbyterian helps employees attain nursing degrees

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Like many aspiring nurses in New Mexico, Owen Myers expected his career to remain on hold for two years while he waited to enroll in a college nursing program.
        Then Myers had a stroke of luck. His employer, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, launched a new degree program that allowed him to enroll as a nursing student this month.
        Instead of waiting until 2010 to enroll in Central New Mexico Community College, Myers, 24, now expects to receive his associate's degree in nursing by May 2010. In the meantime, he will work part time at Presbyterian.
        The courses are offered online by the University of South Dakota under contract with Presbyterian.
        "I'll be able to have a degree and have a goal attained in my life so much sooner," Myers said recently during a break in his clinical classes at Presbyterian Northside in Albuquerque.
        The program, called Presbyterian Pathways to Nursing, is intended to help Presbyterian fill about 350 nursing vacancies a year at a time when New Mexico's college nursing programs are under strain.
        "What we are trying to do is supplement the local programs," said Kathy Davis, chief nurse for the Presbyterian system.
        Statewide, some 3,000 qualified applicants are turned away from college and university nursing programs each year, Davis said. "There are usually three qualified applicants for every spot. So we're doing our part to fill that gap."
        New Mexico's nursing programs have many more qualified applicants than they can enroll.
        CNM has a waiting list of 300 to 400 qualified applicants who want to enter the school's associate nursing degree program, said Nicholas Spezza, dean of CNM's School of Health, Wellness and Public Safety. CNM awards about 150 associate degrees each year.
        At the University of New Mexico, up to 350 applicants vie for about 120 openings each year in the nursing bachelor's degree program, said Jean Giddens, senior associate dean for academic affairs at UNM's College of Nursing. The program has a 97 percent graduation rate.
        Spezza and Giddens say their programs face severe limitations in the number of students they can admit, including a nationwide shortage of qualified nursing faculty and a limited number of clinical sites where students can get hands-on training.
        "All the schools need to have students go through clinical rotations, which involves working with the hospitals," Spezza said.
        UNM and CNM must compete with for-profit nursing schools, Apollo College and Pima Medical Institute, and now the University of South Dakota, for limited clinical sites, they said.
        Myers is one of 10 Presbyterian employees chosen for the Pathways to Nursing program. All have little or no medical training and hold entry-level jobs.
        Presbyterian hopes to enroll up to 60 nursing students within a few years, Davis said.
        It pays the full cost, and students are required to work two years for the system after graduation. Presbyterian pays registered nurses a starting salary of about $25 an hour.
        "I'll make about double what I make now," Myers said. "The financial burden will be a lot less."
       





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