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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

UH offers fast-track nursing program

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

With Hawai'i in the throes of a nursing shortage, the University of Hawai'i has "fast-tracked" a new accelerated nursing program that will graduate its first 10 students in 17 months, less than half the time it takes to complete the traditional three-year bachelor of nursing program.

The new pilot program in the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene, which enrolled its first students this semester, is designed to speed more nurses into the community to help relieve a shortage that is building at the rate of 120 nurses a year.

"In Hawai'i the RN work force data show there are about 400 nurses needed to replace retiring nurses each year, but it's estimated that schools of nursing graduate approximately 280 new nurses each year," said Joanne Itano, chair of the department of Nursing at UH, citing Healthcare Association of Hawai'i statistics. "And the estimate of 400 nurses needed does not include any demands for expansion."

The program joins two other speeded-up curriculum offerings that are already available, one at Kapi'olani Community College and another at Hawai'i Pacific University. But with the shortage growing year by year and nearly 50 percent of active nurses expected to retire in the next decade, experts acknowledge that the three accelerated programs cannot graduate enough nurses to meet demand.

"We still don't have enough slots to produce all the nurses we need," said Carol Winters-Moorhead, dean of nursing at HPU.

Complicating the effort to relieve the nurses shortage is the difficulty in finding and retaining faculty, and securing enough places in clinical settings for student nurses to do their practical training, Winters-Moorhead said.

"We have a clinical facilities committee and they've been told 'Hey we're not taking students this semester because JAHCO (an accrediting agency) is coming or the nurses are too stressed, or they think the students are a liability,'" Winters-Moorhead said. "I don't see how we can grow if the agencies won't take students. And there are only so many community agencies on O'ahu. They have to permit the students to be in those work experiences. Nursing is a practicing profession and the students have to have significant time at the bedside."

On top of all of that, Winters-Moorhead said, nursing faculty are becoming so stressed that they're burning out.

Faculty now "are rare as hen's teeth," she said, so nursing programs sometimes end up sharing faculty or asking full-time staff nurses to teach courses.

Recent work force data on registered nurses from the Community Initiative on Nursing of Hawai'i has found that 46 percent of nurses are over 50 years old and 43 percent of Hawai'i's 9,000 actively practicing registered nurses plan to retire within the next 10 years.

The new UH program offers the fastest timetable yet to help tackle the shortage.

At Kapi'olani, an associate of science in nursing degree takes two years.

Meanwhile, at HPU an intensive 23-month program enables transfer and second-degree students to pursue their bachelor of science in nursing.

HPU also offers a fairly rapid pathway for licensed practical nurses to upgrade their training and receive a BSN in 20 months.

To qualify for the UH accelerated curriculum, students must already have a bachelor's degree and a number of prerequisites; but that enables interested people to rapidly retool their lives into a service profession.

The prerequisites include existing strength in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition and statistics.

"You need the science background to be able to come into nursing," Itano said.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.