Signs of Progress in Addressing New Jersey’s Nurse Faculty Shortage

State Senate committee hears that RWJF’s investment in New Jersey Nursing Initiative is making a difference.

    • December 6, 2012

New Jersey legislators had praise and questions for the health, business and academic leaders who gathered at the State House in Trenton on Nov. 19 to provide an update on progress made so far by the New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI)—a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Three-and-a-half years ago, representatives of RWJF and the Chamber Foundation announced the initiative at a hearing held by the same committee, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. NJNI focuses on lowering the state’s nurse faculty vacancy rate, currently a staggering 10.5 percent, in order to help avert a projected shortage of more than 23,000 nurses in New Jersey in less than two decades.

“In 2009, when the New Jersey Nursing Initiative first launched, it was an unprecedented experiment in addressing the nurse faculty shortage in one state,” said John R. Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and director of the Health Care Group at RWJF. “Today, three and a half years later, I am pleased to be able to report: We are making real progress.”

In that time, Lumpkin and other witnesses said, NJNI’s Faculty Preparation Program has supported 61 New Jersey Nursing Scholars who are pursuing (or have completed) master’s or doctoral degrees that qualify them for nurse faculty positions. NJNI developed the Nursing Academic Resource Center of New Jersey, an online tool for graduate-level nursing students, and supported the Nursing Centralized Application System, which streamlines the nursing school application process for prospective students and monitors the availability of slots in nursing programs. NJNI also launched WeTeachNursingNJ.com, a website providing nurse faculty career information.

In addition, NJNI is taking a lead role in the New Jersey Action Coalition. It helps the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action implement recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s landmark nursing report as part of a nationwide effort to transform nursing and health care by fully utilizing nurses and enhancing their skills and education.

Increasing Demands on Nurses

“The nursing shortage is real,” Sen. Joseph Vitale, the chair of the health committee, said to those assembled in the packed hearing room. NJNI’s efforts “are very important.”

Susan Bakewell-Sachs, PhD, RN, PNP-BC, program director of the New Jersey Nursing Initiative and interim provost of The College of New Jersey, also testified, pointing out NJNI’s role in supporting the Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program Act, which was signed into law in 2010. It provides student loan redemption in exchange for full-time employment in the state as a nurse faculty member. “We have made important progress toward addressing the nursing and nursing faculty shortage and we thank the Legislature, and in particular this committee, for your support in helping us avert a serious health care crisis,” Bakewell-Sachs said.

Sen. Barbara Buono pointed out that as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, the need for primary care physicians will increase. She asked if NJNI’s efforts would lead to more advanced practice nurses who could offset some of the demand for more primary care. “Nurse practitioners contribute exquisitely to closing that gap,” said Mary Ann Christopher, MSN, RN, FAAN, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and chair of NJNI’s National Advisory Committee. Christopher served as the moderator for the hearing. From the outset, NJNI knew that “we needed not only faculty, we needed faculty who understand increasing demands on nurses,” she responded.

Jeffrey Scheininger, president of Flexline/U.S. Brass & Copper Corp. and board chair of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, echoed those sentiments. He told the committee that “the state’s business community has long understood that a shortage of nurses and nurse faculty has serious implications for the welfare of our employees, as well as the costs of running our enterprises. That is why the Chamber remains committed to the New Jersey Nursing Initiative.”

“The breadth of medical decisions made by nurses instead of physicians will increase, and that requires not just having enough nurses, but having great nurses,” Scheininger said. “New Jersey needs to ensure that there are enough great nursing faculty in place to make that happen. Tens of thousands of business owners, like me…know that just as we form the bedrock of our state’s economy, nurses form the bedrock of the health care system.”

‘It Is a Privilege to Teach’

Several senators raised questions about nurse faculty salaries, and they were eager to hear the perspective of Colleen Manzetti, DNP, RN, CNE, CNLCP, an assistant professor at Monmouth University. Manzetti shared her experience as a beneficiary of the state’s Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program, which provides a maximum benefit of $50,000 over five years. “The passion for teaching that nurse faculty members bring to their jobs is really what drives us, not the bottom line,” Manzetti said, citing the salary disparity between nurses in academia and nurses in the health care industry. “There is a great sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing that we improve the lives of patients, even when we’re not at their bedside in the hospital, because we give so many nurses the tools of caring they need. It is a privilege to teach, but financially, it is a sacrifice.”

The committee also heard from two New Jersey Nursing Scholars: Maria Torchia LoGrippo, MSN, RN, a doctoral student at Seton Hall University, and Marlin Gross, MSN, RN, who completed his master’s degree this year and is now an assistant professor at Cumberland County College.

LoGrippo spoke movingly of how her scholarship allowed her to meet academic and family demands—including caring for her two young children and her mother, who recently lost a two-year battle with breast cancer—without the financial pressure to hold a nursing job at the same time. “I now know for sure that I would not have been able to combine work and school without support from the New Jersey Nursing Initiative,” LoGrippo said. “I am well on the way to becoming a tenured nursing professor and the kind of academic nurse leader our nation needs to fix our health care system. I expect to spend the next several decades preparing the next generation of nurses and nurse faculty, who in turn will work to meet the health care needs of people in this state.”

“We need more highly educated nurses to play leading roles in discussions and debates about health care reform,” Gross said. “We need them to provide more complex care to an aging, and more complex, population of patients and to provide critically needed research into ways to improve health care. And we need them to fill faculty vacancies so we can curb a looming nursing shortage and help ensure that all people in our state, and in our country, have access to a highly skilled nurse when and where they need one.”

What’s Next for New Jersey

“We congratulate everyone involved in this initiative,” said Sen. Jim Whelan. “It’s a remarkable hearing, because you haven’t asked us for anything yet. What else do you look for going forward?”

“We’re here really for the reason of thanking you for your support,” responded Christopher. Early on, “some people may have doubted us. We would like for you to be mindful of nursing items in the future. We would like for you to be guardians of our efforts and champions for our work.”

The nursing population is aging, with only 8 percent of New Jersey nurses younger than 30. The average age of the state’s nurses is 51, and the average age of nurse faculty is 55. “Half of the faculty are thinking about retirement,” Lumpkin said. “We’re trying to get ahead of the curve.”

A recent study projects that by 2030, there will be a shortage of 23,358 nurses in New Jersey, indicating that NJNI’s work and similar efforts are crucial to ensuring that enough nurses can be trained to meet future health care needs in the Garden State. NJNI has awarded $21.5 million to a group of institutions of higher education to support the New Jersey Nursing Scholars with full tuition and fees, a $50,000 annual stipend and a laptop computer. Last year, RWJF reauthorized NJNI through 2016, funding scholarships for 10 additional New Jersey Nursing Scholars to pursue PhDs.

“This year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation celebrates its 40th anniversary,” Lumpkin said. “As we look back at the nearly $1.5 billion we’ve invested in New Jersey, nothing makes us prouder than our support of the New Jersey Nursing Initiative. We are transforming the nursing workforce to better serve New Jersey’s future health needs, and in doing so, we are creating a model worthy of broad replication across the nation.”

“We need to support this initiative—to enhance and elevate it,” Sen. Buono said. “This is a good start.”

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