“The findings of this study are incredibly significant because it shows that baccalaureate level nursing programs like the one offered here at TTU actually do enhance the quality of care nurses are able to provide to their patients,” she said.
While a number of community colleges in the Middle Tennessee area offer associate’s level nursing degrees, TTU has the only program to train registered nurses anywhere in the 14-county Upper Cumberland region.
“Without this program, the prime source of nurses for the entire Upper Cumberland region would be lost,” Musacchio said.
In spite of that distinction and while many such programs are struggling to recruit students in light of a projected national nursing shortage that could reach a million by 2010, TTU’s School of Nursing is often forced to reject numbers of qualified nursing candidates because of its severe facilities need.
Although more than 100 freshmen enrolled in nursing at TTU last year, for instance, the program can currently accommodate only about 40 students in each of the two upper division classifications. That means unless a new facility is built, 60 of those students will have to be turned away when they become juniors.
The program has been housed in a temporary facility in the university’s Jere Whitson Building for about two years, after having to abandon its prior facility — a former elementary school located at the edge of campus that was condemned in January 2001. Before the temporary facility was arranged, the program was housed in a modular unit and utilized the ROTC classrooms in the stadium and nursing lab at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.
A new School of Nursing will cost the university a total of $16.5 million, but studies showing the importance of quality nursing education illustrate a strong need for the project, Musacchio said.
The survey linking lower surgical patient death rates with higher nurse education levels was conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers and published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Data collected from 168 hospitals found that surgery patients’ death rates nearly doubled as the percentage of nurses with bachelor’s degrees decreased.
The percentage of baccalaureate level nurses varied from zero to 77 percent at the hospitals included in the review, and the patients studied underwent common operations, such as knee replacements, appendectomies and gallbladder removal.
Hospitals with more than 70 percent of nurses with bachelor’s degrees had a death rate of only 1.5 percent for such patients — but the death rate increased to nearly 3 percent in hospitals with fewer than 10 percent of nurses with bachelor’s degrees.