January 21, 2005

Applications to VUSN at all-time high

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Allan Bass, M.D.

Applications to VUSN at all-time high

Early projections from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing show nearly every specialty in the graduate nursing program will have a waiting list for students with no prior nursing experience entering the school's pre-specialty program in the fall of 2005.

Application numbers already are running ahead of where VUSN was at this time last year. “We have over 400 applications right now, compared to 310 at this time last year,” said Karen Stevens, director of Marketing and Student Recruitment at VUSN. “It's another record year, it's remarkable,” she added.

Slots for students with previous nursing experience who want to enter the master's program are still available, while openings for pre-specialty students are filling up in many specialties. “We have to maintain a certain capacity with clinical placement sites for non-nurses, so that is why we can only take a certain number of students in each area,” said Stevens.

If the increase in applications carries through to actual enrollment and attendance once fall rolls around, it will mark the third straight year the School of Nursing has met enrollment targets.

What is contributing to the influx at Vanderbilt? Senior Associate Dean for Academics Linda Norman, who has a doctorate of science in nursing, said there are several factors. “It's partly because people are learning about nursing as a true career option. They recognize a nursing degree from Vanderbilt is highly regarded in the workplace, and with the state of the economy and the job market, a career in nursing is a wise, long-term choice,” Norman said.

“The news about the nursing shortage has also impacted our enrollment numbers, as it has all schools of nursing. We are seeing this growth in numbers as a national trend,” she added.

Another national trend that has evolved as a result of people responding to news of the nursing shortage has been the struggle for many nursing schools to keep up with the influx and accommodate the number of students who would like to earn a degree. Many schools have been forced in the last several years to turn students away. “I don't think we are as much as other schools, which don't have the faculty or facilities to accommodate the number who want to go into nursing,” said Stevens.

Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., Valere Potter Professor and senior associate dean for Research at VUSN, who has researched this issue in relationship to the nursing shortage across the country, said it's a critical problem that needs attention on a much larger scale.

“Nursing education programs will have to overcome capacity constraints in order to expand and meet the current and growing demand for nurses. It would be most helpful if Congress funded a study to investigate the prevalence and severity of capacity constraints and determine the best ways to quickly resolve them,” suggested Buerhaus. “Last year, in 2004, schools of nursing turned away more than 25,000 qualified students according to recent data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. This trend can and should not continue,” he said.

Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., Nancy and Hilliard Travis Professor and dean of the School of Nursing, agrees with Buerhaus, but said in the meantime, Vanderbilt is doing its part to recognize and address the issue. “We need to re-think how we use the 125-plus academic health science centers in this country, of which Vanderbilt is one, to help liberal arts schools mount BSN programs,” said Conway-Welch.

“Beginning in the 2005-2006 academic year, the new Lipscomb-Vanderbilt partnership will be in place, allowing us to expand enrollment by facilitating this agreement,” she added.

VUSN announced plans in late 2003 to partner with Lipscomb University to offer its students a bachelor of science in nursing degree with courses provided by Vanderbilt.

Lipscomb provides the first five semesters of a pre-nursing liberal arts program of study, while the remaining three semesters of nursing courses and clinical work will be provided by Vanderbilt.

When fall rolls around, Vanderbilt's School of Nursing will make room for a total of 275 new students, who will join nearly 180 returning students to begin another year of nursing education.