Medical school introduces masters nursing degree

The GW Medical School began offering three programs for master’s in nursing this year to help remedy a nationwide shortage of nurses.

“Nursing is not new to the University,” said Jean Johnson, senior associate dean for health sciences programs. “Offering the degree is new.”

Leadership and management, clinical research administration and end-of-life care are the three new graduate fields.

Though the nursing programs were slated to launch in January 2005, interest in them led to the early enrollment of 13 to 15 students who began their studies this semester, Johnson said. The students are nurses seeking to expand their knowledge base.

GW’s Board of Trustees approved the master’s degree just over three months ago, and Johnson said advertising for the programs has been practically nonexistent.

Interest in the programs is highest in clinical research administration, but Johnson expects to see interest in leadership and management increase as the spring semester approaches. She said the number of phone calls and e-mail queries has been substantial. The school is implementing these programs at a time when there is a national shortage of registered nurses.

“There is a need for a more highly educated nursing workforce,” she said, pointing out that nursing has the largest employment force in healthcare with 2.7 million people. “The real issue is the numbers and quality of the workforce.”

In a 2002 report, the federal Department of Health and Human Services projected that the United States has a shortage of 139,000 nurses, or 7 percent of overall demand. In the same study, it was estimated that by 2020 the shortage will reach 808,000, or 29 percent of demand.

The report blames the lack of nurses on a combination of the “declining number of nursing school graduates, the aging of the (registered nurse) workforce, declines in relative earnings and the emergence of alternative job opportunities.”

Also at fault is a growing need for nurses due to an enlarging and aging population, as well as an amplified per capita demand for healthcare.

GW’s nursing leadership and management program is designed to advance expertise in healthcare managerial areas.

“Every hospital in the nation is having trouble getting effective managers,” Johnson said.

Clinical research administration for nurses involves developing and improving patient care products and procedures. GW’s program will emphasize data collection and analysis, in addition to the study of the guidelines that govern clinical research.

“We’re offering (students) the program so they can be safe managers of clinical research,” Johnson said.

End-of-life care nursing offers training in the treatment of chronically ill and dying patients. Johnson said the focus of this program is on more effective counseling and counseling models.

All three new programs are part of what the University calls “distance learning,” in which working nurses can get a degree from home. Distance learning uses online communications and other media tools to provide students with coursework and professional contacts.

“The primary reason (for the use of distance learning) is that we’re talking about working nurses,” Johnson said. “Picking up and moving is really difficult to do. Instead, we’re bringing the work to them.”

The Medical School hired a technician of Web-based learning to help with the intricacies of distance learning.

“I’ve never had a student say an online course is easy,” Johnson said.

To apply for a master’s of science in nursing, students are expected to have a bachelor’s in nursing from an accredited nursing school, in addition to several other basic requirements. Each nursing program demands the completion of 42 semester hours.

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