ANNAPOLIS – Teresa Bero earned a degree in sociology with a minor in business administration in December 2000 at Florida State University, but come July she’ll be a nurse.
Bero, 23, of Florida, is enrolled in the accelerated baccalaureate nursing program at Johns Hopkins University.
Bero said she was attracted to the profession because it’s challenging, provides a multitude of opportunities, allows for the exploration of different avenues and provides personal interaction with patients.
“I absolutely love it, there’s nothing else I would do,” she added.
As Maryland’s nursing shortage continues, complaints about nursing schools not generating enough nurses to meet demand are increasingly invalid as attempts by Maryland’s prominent nursing programs to increase enrollments begin to pay off.
Bero typifies two exciting trends in nursing: She’s one of an increasing number of students, and she comes to the profession from another discipline.
After six years of decline, enrollment in Maryland’s baccalaureate nursing programs has made a much-needed surge in the last two years, with a record 3,210 nursing students in 2002, a 20 percent increase from the year before, according to Maryland Higher Education Commission data.
Maryland has bettered the national trend, where enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased by only 8 percent from fall 2001 to fall 2002, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
Enrollment was at a high in the early-1990s, peaking in 1994 at 2,976 students, but it steadily declined from 1995 to 2000, according to MHEC data.
The enrollment decline in the late-1990s could be blamed on “a very short period of time when graduates couldn’t get jobs,” said Donna Dorsey, Maryland Board of Nursing executive director.
At that time, high school students choosing a major bypassed fields where jobs were unavailable. “Unfortunately, by the time they progressed through their education, there would have been plenty of jobs,” said Dorsey.
Hospital restructuring and an increased number of older, sicker patients converged and produced the shortage the state faces today.
Projections show in two years, by 2005, there will be 3,299 unfilled full- time registered nurse positions in Maryland, and by 2015 that number will shoot up to 13,044. Nationally, by 2015, there will be a shortage of 507,063 registered nurses, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
Despite the rise in nursing school enrollments, the shortage may need to be addressed through other avenues.
“Trying to graduate more nurses is not going to solve the nursing shortage. There has been six years of downturn in enrollments; we can’t make that number up,” said Dean Janet D. Allan of the nursing school at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
With enrollments “so robust,” and the nursing shortage still a reality, schools realize it is practically impossible to produce enough nurses to care for the Baby Boomers who will eventually “overwhelm the health care system,” added Allan.
“We have to utilize the nurse differently,” said Allan. “Increasing enrollment numbers is not enough.”
However, the nursing programs at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University and Towson University have each taken significant steps in the last two years to recruit and enroll more nurses.
The University of Maryland at Baltimore, one of the largest nursing schools in the country, saw its undergraduate enrollment increase 16 percent from fall 2001 to fall 2002. From 1998 to 2002, UMAB’s average enrollment was 691 nursing students, according to the UMB Office of Institutional Research and Planning.
Before 2001, enrollment declined every year across the country, and therefore schools, including UMAB, made an effort to attract more undergraduates into nursing programs, said Dean Allan.
However, a more pressing problem UMAB faces is that the master’s candidate enrollment has not turned around like the BSN, and the masters program is the source of the school’s faculty, said Allan.
UMAB has purposely focused on its graduate program, the largest masters program in the state and ranked 10th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The goal is to balance the degrees and recruitment of all prospective nurses, said Allan.
Towson University’s nursing school has made a deliberate effort to increase undergraduate enrollment, even though it is having a difficult time accommodating the high number of nursing students, said Cynthia Kielinen, academic chairwoman of the nursing department.
In past years, the school accepted between 32 and 36 students for the fall semester and another 32 to 36 for the spring semester. However, in the last two years, that number has almost doubled, according to Kielinen.
In spring 2001, 41 students were accepted into the nursing program. In fall 2001, that number jumped to 60 students, and in fall 2002, 72 students were accepted, according to data provided by Kielinen.
Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing has already filled waiting lists for its BSN programs this year. The school offers two options, an accelerated 13-and-a-half-month program and a traditional four-semester program, according to Mary O’Rourke, the school’s admissions and student services director for 15 years.
In the last two years, between 100 and 110 students were accepted for each program, she said.
“The most exciting trend in applications,” said O’Rourke, “is that most of the candidates have degrees in other disciplines.”
In the past two years, in the traditional four-semester program, 90 percent of applicants already had some type of degree, she said.
This is a very telling trend — people are not only switching careers, but are choosing nursing as their new profession.
Bero, the sociology major who chose to become a nurse, plans to work in the emergency department, but she expects to return for graduate school in four to five years to advance her nursing career.