A recent Maine Department of Labor report, “Workforce Analysis of Maine’s Health Services Sector,” projects that Maine will need 17,045 registered nurses in 2016. That will require some 3,000 more nurses than were employed in 2008.

Educating those nurses is a state imperative, and not surprisingly, it is the primary focus of USM’s nursing program, the largest in Maine.

USM opened this new academic year with 441 students enrolled in undergraduate nursing programs and another 104 students enrolled in our master’s nursing programs.

As part of their education, our nursing students, under the supervision of faculty and with the support of Maine Medical Center, Portland Public Housing and others, deliver community nursing services in the Portland neighborhoods of Sagamore Village, Bayside and Parkside.

Students and faculty also deliver basic health care screenings and services to the fishing families on Casco Bay islands.

USM faculty have taken leadership roles in a statewide initiative to bridge the gap between nursing education and practice.

Others are engaged with Maine Medical Center nurses and administrators to re-imagine nursing education for the purpose of ensuring that nurses are ready to care for patients as soon as they reach the hospital floor.

Shortly after Krista Meinersmann joined us last year as director and associate professor of nursing, she told us, “I have found the faculty, staff and students to be enthusiastic supporters of quality nursing education who are committed to providing quality health care. There’s a track record of innovation here that is exciting.”

Krista has been a nurse for more than 30 years and came to USM after serving as associate director of the highly regarded Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Her praise means a great deal to us.

A GOOD TRACK RECORD

USM’s track record in nursing includes an RN-to-baccalaureate program, designed for nurses who do not yet hold four-year degrees, to advance their nursing careers.

Our School of Nursing also initiated what is known as a “fast-track program,” which allows those students who have a baccalaureate degree in another discipline to complete a degree in just 15 months of full-time study.

At the graduate level, USM also was among the first institutions in the United States to offer a master’s degree in nursing for those people who were not educated as nurses but who had earned a baccalaureate in another field.

Known as the Options Program, it remains a national model.

With the support of Maine’s congressional delegation and community partners such as Maine Medical Center, USM’s School of Nursing has made tremendous progress in harnessing “simulation” technology to better prepare students for real-life clinical settings.

Professor Janice Childs and others use cutting-edge technology, classroom presentations and programmed mannequins that mimic patient responses to critical care situations.

As a result, more students are exposed to, and familiar with, acute care situations before entering their required internships at local hospitals and other health care settings.

Due to the expansion of USM’s Nursing Learning Resource and Simulation Center, current nurse practitioners may also find professional development opportunities at USM.

MOVING UP THE LADDER

To help address our state’s shortage of nursing educators, our School of Nursing has developed a 9-credit certificate program that combines face-to-face instruction, online instruction, and a clinical practicum to prepare students to teach not only in entry-level, but also master’s-level nursing programs. 

This program is also designed for those who want to teach in professional staff development settings.

I am also pleased to report that earlier this month the University of Maine System Trustees gave USM approval to launch a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program.

A DNP will be the required credential for all advance practice nurses by 2015, according to a policy approved by The American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Those holding this advanced degree will fill the pressing need for specialized nurse professionals and address the shortage of nursing educators.

The “track record of innovation” cited by Professor Meinersmann is made possible thanks to the day-to-day work of our nursing faculty and students, in collaboration with off-campus partners.

All of us share the goal of providing Maine with the 21st-century nursing workforce that its citizens need.

This is a compelling example of USM’s commitment to the future of Maine and the well-being of its citizens, as well as a powerful reminder of this public comprehensive university’s mission.

Selma Botman is president of the University of Southern Maine. For more information, visit www.usm.maine.edu.