New nursing facility at TTU would help prevent shortages in the Upper Cumberland

In spite of dire predictions for a national nursing shortage that could result in a million job vacancies by 2010, Tennessee Tech University’s School of Nursing isn’t short on quality students — and university officials want to keep it that way.

That’s why TTU last month announced the public phase of a campaign to raise $21 million for the construction of a new and badly needed School of Nursing facility, which will be the first specifically built to accommodate the 25-year-old academic program.

“It’s critical for us to have a nursing program that can meet the demands of an up-to-date healthcare industry, or the nursing shortages that are already being felt more severely in other areas of the state and nation are going to reach us too,” said Marilyn Musacchio, Dean of Nursing at TTU.

As the Upper Cumberland region’s prime source of registered nurses, however, the program is credited by many with helping to alleviate such severe nursing shortages in the area.

“The rate of job vacancies for nurses in the Upper Cumberland region is around four or five percent, but in other parts of the state, it’s closer to nine or 10 percent,” Musacchio said. “I think one of the main reasons we don’t have more of a shortage here is because of our nursing program.”

Because of the program’s severe facilities need, though, the number of nursing candidates it can graduate at a given time is currently limited to about 50. Degrees were awarded to 42 in May, but a new facility would help to double and possibly even triple that number.

“More than 100 freshmen enrolled in nursing at TTU last year, but because we don’t have the classroom space to accommodate all of them, we’ll have to turn away about half of them when they become juniors,” Musacchio said.

Already, the program has been forced to turn away students with GPAs of 3.0 or higher on the university’s 4.0 scale.

In the last two years, the number of students enrolled in baccalaureate nursing programs across the country has been slightly on the rise — but even if that trend continues, Musacchio said, it won’t eliminate the projected nursing shortage.

“It’ll just push it back to a million job vacancies by 2020, instead of 2010,” she said.

What many people may not realize, she added, is that such a severe shortage is already one of the main factors contributing to rising healthcare costs.

“When there’s a severe shortage in a particular area, hospitals are often forced to hire temporary nurses from a job placement agency, whose salaries are two or three times that of regular hospital nurses, and that cost filters down to the patients,” she said.

Such a situation could be particularly problematic in rural areas such as the Upper Cumberland, where the population tends to have statistically higher rates of both illness and poverty.

“That puts a whole different perspective on our need for a new nursing building because it shows just how much a widespread nursing shortage will affect everyone, and I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen here,” Musacchio said.

For more information about how to participate in the TTU nursing campaign, call University Development at 931/372-3055 or check out the “Giving to TTU” link on the university homepage at www.tntech.edu.

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