May 12, 2006

Online nursing degree bill stalls in committee

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Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D.

Online nursing degree bill stalls in committee

A Virginia firm's bid to operate an online nursing diploma program in Tennessee was squelched in a state senate committee last week.

The nine members of the Tennessee Senate General Welfare Health and Human Resources Committee voted down the bill backing the program, which would have allowed students to prepare for initial entry into the practice of nursing through primarily online education.

The bill was opposed by the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, the Tennessee Board of Nursing, the Tennessee Board of Regents, the Tennessee Nurses Association and others. They say the bill is the wrong approach to address the shortage of nurses and that seeking legislative resolution was a dangerous precedent that could threaten quality education and patient safety. The same program was previously denied approval by the Tennessee Board of Nursing.

Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of VUSN, testified before the committee.

“I'm a big proponent of online education for R.N. to B.S.N., R.N. to M.S.N. and doctoral programs,” she said. “However, using online education to train a non-nurse to become a diploma R.N. is difficult and untested, even if hospital staff are willing to supervise students for clinical experience.”

All parties were actively involved in the three-hour debate. Advocates of the legislation described the bill as a way to help Tennessee's current nursing shortage of 13,000 nurses, with an expected shortage of 35,000 nurses by 2020.

Sen. Diane Black (R-Hendersonville) voted against the bill.

“Some say this would simply be a pilot program. I believe that we really need to make sure nurses are well trained because we are talking about people's lives.”