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Students Flock To Nursing Programs

Students Flock To Nursing Programs

Karla Schuster / Newsday

U.S. Labor Department analysts project that 587,000 new nursing jobs will be created nationwide between 2006 and 2016, an increase of 23.5 percent.

Nursing educators say their graduates can easily score jobs with starting salaries ranging from $50,000 to $60,000.

“Students are really starting to re-evaluate – all the business majors and computer science majors are saying, ‘When I get out, I want a job with a guaranteed salary in a profession I can grow in,’” said Craig Lehman, interim executive dean for health sciences at Stony Brook.

Greater life expectancy and aging baby boomers are driving the demand for health professionals. At the same time, nursing’s portability, flexible schedule and competitive starting salaries have fueled growing interest. “We’ve got all this interest – now how are we going to accommodate it?” said Kathleen Bratby, assistant dean for students at Stony Brook’s School of Nursing.

Increasing interest has not been met with a corresponding increase in spots. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing in December reported that annual enrollment growth – after hitting a high of 16.6 percent in 2003 – has been tapering off. In 2008, enrollment in bachelor’s degree nursing programs nationwide went up just 2 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of applicants more than doubled between 2003 and 2007 nationwide, as acceptance rates dropped below 50 percent, according to the association. In New York State, applications rose by 31.8 percent between 2005 and 2007 while acceptance rates fell below 40 percent.

Nicole Reyes, 22, a senior nursing student at Stony Brook, recalls the advice she was given when she applied to the program as a sophomore: “The first thing they tell you is that it’s highly competitive and to have a backup plan.”

A shortage of hospital clinical placements for students and a lack of faculty due to retirements – some estimates put the average age of nursing faculty at 55 – are the key reasons that schools cannot add seats faster, officials said.

“Resources are a big problem,” said Carol Mottola, head of the Nassau Community College nursing program. “Between budget and physical resources, and faculty resources, it’s almost impossible to expand beyond what we currently have.”

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