Published: Fri Jun 4, 2004Tennessee Tech University is doing its part to overcome a projected statewide nursing shortage that could reach nearly 10,000 by 2020.
The university has announced a campaign to build a new and badly needed School of Nursing facility, the total estimated cost of which is $21 million, and the public phase of the campaign is to complete that goal by July 2005.
Of that cost, $17 million would be for the construction and equipment of the new building, and $4 million would be for establishing a Rural Health Center of Excellence program.
“Such a large campaign typically doesn’t go public until at least half or more of the needed funds have been collected, but that still doesn’t guarantee we’ll reach our goal as soon as we hope,” said Paul Isbell, director of University Advancement at TTU. “Every dollar of financial support is important and every donation is necessary to make this campaign a success.”
As the prime source of registered nurses for the entire Upper Cumberland region, the new facility has long been a priority of the university, and the university hopes the state will provide much of the funding for the project.
This year, the state funded several building projects through bond issues. While the TTU nursing facility wasn’t on the list this year, campus officials hope and expect it to be among those considered for funding next year.
“We appreciate all that the state has done and is doing to help higher education in Tennessee,” said TTU President Bob Bell. “The administration’s decision to fund these building projects demonstrates its firm commitment to providing its citizens with the best educational opportunities possible.”
Under Bell’s leadership, the university has been actively raising funds for the new facility for several years, since the former School of Nursing — which was once an elementary school located at the edge of campus — had to be abandoned in 2000 and was actually condemned the following year.
“The money required for the construction of a new School of Nursing would be a wise investment, considering the quality performance of our nursing students in spite of the severe facilities need we’re currently experiencing,” said Marilyn Musacchio, dean of nursing at TTU.
TTU’s nursing graduates, for example, consistently have exceptional performance on licensing exams. For the past eight years, they have achieved a 94 percent average pass rate on the licensure exam, including three consecutive years of a 100 percent pass rate.
Those graduates, in addition to going on to work at hospitals throughout the Upper Cumberland region, also make up about half the registered nurses at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.
“I sometimes wonder what position this hospital would be in if Tennessee Tech administrators hadn't established the School of Nursing back in 1980. Without it, I don't think we'd be able to offer many of the services we do today," said Linda Crawford, CRMC’s vice-president of patient care services.
Left virtually homeless when forced to abandon its former facility, TTU’s program was fragmented among various campus locations until temporary space was made for it in the Jere Whitson Building, where it will continue to be housed until a new facility is constructed, and faculty continue to be housed in the Nursing Annex modular unit across campus from the Jere Whitson classroom accommodations.
The university has chosen the block between 6th and 7th Streets and N. Mahler and N. Walnut Avenues as the location for the new nursing building. The old Smith Quad residence hall complex, which was built in the 1950s and 60s, currently stands there, but plans are already underway for its demolition.
The corner will eventually serve as an anchor, linking TTU’s School of Nursing with a major entrance to the area Cookeville planning officials have designated as the city’s medical district.
According to architectural renderings, the new facility’s featured highlights will include state-of-the-art classroom, clinical labs and faculty facilities, a 300-seat auditorium and other conference and meeting rooms, an updated Student Health Services facility and a $4 million Rural Health Center of Excellence to serve the special needs of the Upper Cumberland Region.
“There just seems to be a convergence of key issues — like the projected state and national nursing shortages, the school’s severe facilities need and the growth of the city’s medical district — that make this the opportune time for a new School of Nursing at TTU,” Bell said.
More than 100 freshmen enrolled in nursing at TTU last year, but because of the school’s severe facilities need, the program can accommodate a maximum of only 56 students in each of the two upper division classifications.
That means unless a new facility is built, about half of all nursing students will have to be turned away when they become juniors. A number of students with GPAs of 3.0 or higher on TTU’s 4.0 scale have already had to be rejected.
Without a new facility, which would nearly triple TTU’s number of nursing graduates, that situation could intensify an already dire prediction of a national nursing shortage that could reach a million by 2010.
Within the next 15 years, 50 percent of all nursing educators in both the state and the nation are also expected to retire.
“A shortage of educators means nursing students can’t be properly instructed and can’t be put to work — and that creates an even more drastic shortage across the board,” said Musacchio.
Many of those very same aging Baby Boomer retirees, however, will simultaneously increase the need for more and better health care services — and TTU is committed to providing the nurses who offer that care.
For more information about the 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.