Progress in New Mexico: A New Kind of Education System for a New Generation of Nurses

May 21, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by

Janice “Nisa” Bruce is the director of San Juan College Department of Nursing in Farmington, NM.  She has a BA from San Francisco State University, a BSN from East Central University Oklahoma, and an MS from the University of Oklahoma, College of Nursing.  She has been in nursing higher education since 1988, and is completing her 20th year at San Juan College.


We began our New Mexico community college-university collaboration in late 2009 with the publication of a university-generated white paper articulating the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations citing the need for more baccalaureate nurses to meet the health care needs of the 21st century. Of course to community college associate degree educators, that proposal smacked of the old entry level into practice argument that has divided nursing educators for decades. We gnashed our teeth, we complained to each other, we argued that the literature was flawed. Then we got busy. And the New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium (NMNEC) was born.

Little by little, over time, the pieces have fallen into place. 

New Mexico is a western mountain state with the fifth largest land area in the nation. In many ways we are still the wild, wild West—especially those of us in the outlying areas. New Mexico universities currently have only two pre-licensure baccalaureate nursing programs. Without the robust participation of the community colleges to promote seamless baccalaureate education, the universities would not have capacity to meet increased demand for baccalaureate graduates. Our ability to coalesce into a statewide academic progression goal-driven entity is nothing short of miraculous. Our NMNEC participants are scattered from the extreme northwest part of the state in Farmington to the extreme southeast in Carlsbad and Hobbs and all points in between.


In the past three years we have come to know each other, have traveled the state to visit our respective schools, and have collaborated together to produce a statewide concept-based curriculum with associate degree nursing (ADN) and baccalaureate degree in nursing (BSN) programs of study. At this critical point, the first schools are ready to complete Phase I of the NMNEC plan:  implementation of the programs of study. Phase II of the plan sets parameters for and begins implementation of the community college-university partnerships. With these partnerships, our community college students will be able to remain in their home communities and complete BSNs through the collaborative efforts of the NMNEC community colleges and universities. The launch of the first community college-university partnership is scheduled for January 2014.

Although the initial statewide curriculum push from New Mexico state legislators and the Higher Education Department stressed seamless articulation, gradually we came to realize how remarkable and revolutionary this collaborative effort has become. The true motive behind these partnerships is academic progression in nursing—creation of new processes to prepare nurses for the challenges of health care in the 21st century. We recognize we are entering an era where the historic methods of teaching in didactic and clinical settings no longer provide entry-level nurses with the competencies and skill sets necessary to navigate a complex health care environment.

As we are set to launch this initiative, we recognize that none of this would have been possible without the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the New Mexico Board of Nursing. Through encouragement and financial support we have been able to fund administrative resources, faculty travel, and professional development. We have, in fact, become the nursing faculty of New Mexico, rather than faculty of our respective institutions.

Twenty years ago, when I first came to New Mexico, the Farmington health care community asked when San Juan College would be able to offer baccalaureate degrees in nursing. I am now delighted to say that, with the statewide efforts of the New Mexico universities and community colleges, this opportunity is becoming a reality for all pre-licensure nursing students across the state. We are so grateful to the RWJF and the New Mexico Board of Nursing for promoting this success.

Read more about how community colleges and universities are collaborating, in New Mexico and elsewhere, to help nursing students advance their education.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.