Nursing Education Quid Pro Quo
If the root of the nursing shortage is not a lack of interest in the career but rather a dearth of qualified instructors, then making it more attractive to become a nurse educator by forgiving student loans for those pursuing higher education in nursing makes a lot of sense to me.
That's precisely the aim of the Nurses' Higher Education and Loan Repayment Act, which would establish a federal student loan repayment program for nurses who agree to teach full-time at an accredited school of nursing for at least 4 years in a 6-year period.
Nurses in the program would be eligible to receive a loan repayment of up to $40,000 to obtain a master's degree, the basic requirement to become a nurse educator, or up to $80,000 to obtain a doctorate degree in nursing.
The bill has received backing from nursing groups, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), and the Service Employees International Union, which counts 80,000 nurses among its 1 million healthcare worker members.
The bipartisan legislation was introduced March 12 by U.S. Reps. Tom Latham (R-IA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Click here to listen to an mp3 of Rep. Latham answer questions about the bill. To read the legislation in its entirety visit http://thomas.loc.gov/ and enter the bill number (H.R. 1460) into the search engine on the homepage.
Granted, one could argue - and I hope many of you will - whether serving as an instructor for only 4 years in a 6-year period is enough of a return on the U.S. taxpayer's investment of up to $80,000.
Conversely, one could easily argue - and I hope many of you will - that, if passed and signed into law by President Obama as part of his overall approach to healthcare reform, this legislation would enable some of the thousands of applicants being turned away from nursing schools each year to enroll in quality programs and ultimately shrink the staffing shortage.
It's not a quick fix, but a single, plausible, long-term solution to a problem that needs to be tackled on multiple fronts, says AACN CEO and executive director, Polly Bednash, PhD, RN, FAAN.
"A significant barrier to addressing the nurse faculty shortage is enticing nurses with advanced degrees to pursue careers in academia when salaries in the practice setting are much higher," she says. "One way to compensate for these lower salaries and attract younger nurses into teaching roles is to relieve their educational debt."
How about you?
Chuck Holt is associate editor and Web editor at ADVANCE.