Testimony of the New York State Nurses Association, delivered by Deputy Executive Officer Deborah Elliott, MBA, RN, before the Assembly Higher Education Committee, 20 March, 2009.
Good afternoon. My name is Deborah Elliott, and I am a registered nurse and the Deputy Executive Officer of the New York State Nurses Association. Joining me today is Nicole Burckard, Senior Associate Director of Governmental Affairs for the Association. The Nurses Association is the oldest and largest professional organization for registered nurses in New York State, representing the interests of thousands of registered nurses across the State and serving as the collective bargaining agent for more than 35,000 RNs at 150 healthcare facilities. On behalf of our members, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the value of community colleges and the important issues pertaining to Associate Degree Nursing Programs.
Associate Degree Nursing programs provide quality, comprehensive nursing education programs. On average, 50% of the registered nurses licenses in NYS graduate from AD programs. The accessibility and affordability of community colleges has opened the door for a varied student population to obtain a nursing degree. Nursing students in AD programs are characterized by diversity of age, gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Therefore, these students bring a wide range of experience to the learning environment. We recognize the value and worth of Associate Degree programs as an excellent pathway for basic entry into the nursing profession for many students. Community college programs provide an essential first step to career mobility for nurses.
Nothing is more crucial to the well-being of the public than having access to quality health care delivered by competent, well educated registered nurses. To that end, it is important to highlight the connection between the lack of access to affordable nursing education programs and the State’s worsening nursing shortage. We know that the demand for nursing education programs has increased in recent years. However, there are not enough programs to meet that growing need and those that do exist are at maximum capacity.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration it is estimated that 10,000 registered nurses must graduate each year in New York State to meet workforce demands. In 2005, fewer than 7,000 RNs graduated from New York programs. For that same year, SUNY’s Center for Health Workforce Studies reported that nursing schools turned away 3,000 qualified applicants due to a lack of capacity and a lack of qualified faculty (Center for Health Workforce Studies, School of Public Health, University of Albany, August 2008).
This evidence underscores the critical need for continued funding to increase the volume of qualified nursing faculty, improve program infrastructure and expand nursing programs in New York State. Due to the extensive clinical training required for nursing education, these programs can be costly. Last year, the Legislature provided $2 million in funds for the State University of New York (SUNY) to improve and expand its nursing programs. Those funds enabled SUNY to educate an additional 250 RNs. Several Community Colleges that benefited from the State’s investment include Adirondack, Cayuga, Delhi’s RN to BSN program, Erie, Genesee, Jamestown, Jefferson, North Country, Orange, Rockland and Westchester. This year, the Governor proposed a $300,000 cut to this program. NYSNA requests the restoration of this funding so that these colleges can continue to benefit their current enrollees, as well as expand their services in order to increase access for additional qualified applicants.
Research conducted by the Center for Health Workforce Studies identifies a lack of qualified nursing faculty as one of the major factors contributing to the nursing shortage. An advanced degree is required for nursing faculty and strict mandates on nursing faculty-to-student ratios must be followed. The lack of qualified faculty correlates directly to limited access to nursing programs. Master’s prepared nurses have many professional opportunities available to them. In addition, faculty positions are poorly compensated and involve heavy workloads as a result of minimal resources and clinical instruction. Providing incentives to become nursing faculty is essential in combating the nursing shortage. Therefore, NYSNA supports the restoration of $1.5 million in funds cut from the Senator Patricia K. McGee Nursing Faculty Scholarship and Loan Forgiveness Program. Providing scholarship money for this purpose helps offset the lower salaries for master’s prepared nursing faculty.
Nursing is a dynamic and complex discipline. The fast-paced, ever-changing healthcare arena presents tremendous challenges. Dramatic changes in the healthcare delivery system have greatly impacted the role of nurses. Nurses now work alongside members of the healthcare team whose educational point of entry into their profession is at a master’s degree or higher. There is an increasing reliance on research, evidence-based interventions, critical thinking, and community and public health practice. Registered nurses should possess the education and acquire the intellectual skills to be able to fully participate in the care needs of this complex environment.
According to the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education, the Federal Government has recommended that two-thirds of RNs hold bachelor’s degrees by 2010. While that goal will not be met within this time frame, a push toward the advancement of the profession is possible. A recent article in the Nursing Economics journal reports that supply and demand projections over the next few decades indicate not only on the need to increase the numbers of nurses, but also on the need for nurses to be prepared at the baccalaureate and advanced-degree levels (ADN to BSN: lessons from Human Capital Theory; Graf CM; Nursing Economics, 2006 May-June). The American Association of Colleges of Nursing states that a nursing faculty shortage, which has resulted in extensive waiting lists for nursing education programs, highlights the need for nurses prepared at advanced educational levels. Additionally, recent surveys identify the preference of Chief Nurse Executives to hire nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Furthermore, Magnet hospitals, recognized for their excellence in nursing practice, typically have a higher percentage of baccalaureate-prepared nurses on staff.
Therefore, the New York State Nurses Association supports legislation to advance nursing education and require that nurses obtain a bachelor’s degree within ten years of receiving their initial license. By maintaining associate degree entry, the bill provides a reasonable compromise that precludes many of the more radical plans for educational standardization being proposed by other countries, states, and agencies. Given the enhancements to articulation between associate and baccalaureate nursing programs and the ever-increasing options for advanced placement and distance learning, this bill can be implemented without disadvantaging future new graduates. (National Council of State Boards for Nursing. State Updates on Nursing Shortage Issues and Activities; retrieved March 18, 2009 from https://www.ncsbn.org/763.htm)
However, NYSNA’s proposal does not seek to require a bachelor’s degree as the point of entry into the nursing profession. NYSNA’s proposal preserves the community college Associate Degree programs and recognizes the essential role they play in the education and preparation of the nursing workforce.
For more information, contact the New York State Nurses Association Governmental Affairs Department at 518.782.9400, ext. 283 or by e-mail.