More faculty needed to accommodate growing demand for nurses

Daniel Purves, Staff Writer

An expansion to the nursing program at Francis Marion University is waiting on a budgeting decision from South Carolina’s House of Representatives.

“Every year 40,000 qualified nursing applicants are turned away nationally because there is not enough faculty,” Dr. Ruth Wittmann-Price, chair of the Department of Nursing at FMU, said.

Wittmann-Price said that there will be a national shortfall of 500,000 nurses by 2020.

It takes four years to train a college freshman to be a registered nurse, who can then take on primary care duties and, depending on the state, issue prescription drugs.

A further three to four years is required to become a nurse practitioner at the master’s level. This grade has a dramatically wider scope of practice over a registered nurse and focuses on a specialization, such as pediatrics.

The Institute of Medicine, an independent organization which provide advice to policy makers in government, wants all nurses to be qualified at the master’s level, requiring many working professionals to go back to school.

Currently, FMU is the only institution in the Pee Dee region to offer training at the baccalaureate level, with the technical colleges training people up to the registered nurse level.

“We are responding by setting up satellite programs in Marion and Lake City so that registered nurses can get their baccalaureates,” Wittmann-Price said. “Seventy two students have been accepted for the fall, our largest intake yet.”

The demand for more nurses comes from the baby boomer generation approaching retirement age, shifting the country’s demographics. This has created a substantial section of society that will not be in employment, but will be increasingly calling on the stretched resources of the health services.

At the same time there has been a dramatic rise in poor health across the nation, with conditions such as heart disease becoming prevalent, according to Wittmann-Price.

This double hit has already impacted services, with investment in education needed now to stop problems from spiralling in the future. Compounding the issue is a lack of teaching staff to train new nurses.

“The average age of nursing faculty is 55-60 years old,” Wittmamn-Price said.  “Faculty are not being replenished.”

Advanced Nurse Practitioners earn much better rates of pay in hospitals, compared to those in education. This price disparity causes faculty numbers to be low. The solution, according to Wittmann-Price, is to increase the wages of the faculty to attract and retain more staff.

FMU President Dr. Fred Carter said that the nurse practitioners who do teach at FMU are of the highest standard.

“Dr. Wittmann-Price is a reflective and savvy person who understands both practice and teaching,” Carter said. “There is no one more capable.”

With a new state-of-the-art building, equipped with a 24-bed laboratory, high-tech mannequin and simulated patient experiences, the program offered by FMU is a comprehensive education geared to produce quality nurses.

However, both Carter and Wittmann-Price agree that the program needs to be expanded in order to meet the increasing health demands of the population.

“It is the very next new academic program planned,” Carter said.

That program is largely dependent upon FMU receiving more money from the State – an unlikely proposition with an $821 million deficit in the public pocket.