by Douglas Walter
The Colorado State Legislature took a stab at solving faculty-shortage issues at Colorado nursing schools, as well as made it easier for nurses to transfer to and from 22 other states without re-licensing, when the lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session earlier this month.
The changes came in the form of three bills.
Two of the bills, SB 136 Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness and HB1269 Nursing Faculty Fellowship Program, are directly aimed at educating more nurses to become high-level instructors and Colorado nursing schools.
"The Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness program is important because it is already funded," said Sue Carparelli, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence.
The program provides nurses with loan payments up to $20,000 who are pursuing masters or doctorates degree. In return for the loan payments, nurses must agree to take a full-time teaching job at a Colorado school for at least five years.
The bill appropriates $161,600 from the Colorado’s general fund to the program, which is to be implemented this fall.
"I think that part of the legislation is really important," Carparelli said of the general-fund dollars, pointing out it shows a willingness on the state level to find dollars to solve faculty shortage problem.
Administrative issues are still being worked out in the bill, but the should be completed by August and ready to implement by the fall.
Nurses can find out how to apply for the funding at www.coloradonursingcenter.org.
Along the same lines, HB1269 Nursing Faculty Fellowship Program would provide fellowship payments of $10,000 annually for three years to help nursing schools fill vacancies.
However, the program is not funded, making it essentially ineffective.
Carparelli said at least the program is in place to give lawmakers and health officials the opportunity to find dollars for funding.
She said both the bills are a start at solving the faculty shortage problems, "but there’s no one thing in and of itself that is the silver bullet."
Some consider the faculty shortage problems in Colorado a keystone challenge in getting more nurses trained and working in the state.
Colorado is estimated to have a 5,000 fewer nurses than needed, nearly double the national average, according to estimates from the Colorado Nurses Association.
Meanwhile, nursing faculty shortages in Colorado range from 15 percent in four-year program to 25 percent in two-year programs in Colorado, according to the Colorado Health Institute. That’s much higher than the national average of 8.6 percent.
One reason for the shortages is that nurses with masters and doctorates degree are promised higher salaries at hospitals, as compared to what a university can offer, Carparelli explained.
Masters-prepared nurses, for example, receive and estimate of $60,000 in a hospital setting, which includes a generous benefits package, while masters tenure-track nursing instructors start at $42,000 a year, according to the Colorado Nurses Association.
In addition to faculty issues, lawmakers also passed SB20 Nurse Licensure Compact, something that has been considered for several heres.
It’s passage enters Colorado into the Nurse Licensure Compact with the 22 other states.
Once database updates are completed, and certain rules or procedures are adopted, Colorado nurses can work in the 22 other states within the compact without obtaining licenses in each state.