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2011 January 10 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS: NH Colleges, Hospitals Analyze Gaps in Education of Nurses

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — When Margie Lim-Morison started work as a nurse 25 years ago, oxygen and heart rate monitors were used only in the intensive care unit. Now, they’re common in standard hospital rooms, and nurses better know how to use them.

“The good side is that it provides more safety on the floor because we have sicker patients, but it also makes the nurse’s job more complex because they’re looking at so many more pieces of data and having to be the communicator of the information and coordinator of care,’’ said Lim-Morison, a professor of nursing at Colby-Sawyer College. “With all the people you need to keep in the loop, and the planning that a nurse does in the care of the patient while advocating for and educating the patient and their family, the layers are greater. Even though we have greater tools on the floor, it adds another layer of complexity.”

A little over a year into a multi-state project to address a regional nursing shortage, New Hampshire officials are learning more about the gaps in nursing school curriculum. Ensuring that nursing students graduate with the skills hospitals and other health care organizations need is part of the project, which also involves Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

With federal officials estimating the nation will have 29 percent fewer nurses than it needs by 2020, the three states are using a $250,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and funding from Tufts Health Plan Foundation and others to increase the number of nursing teachers, provide incentives for nurses who want to pursue advanced degrees and redesign nursing school curricula to better prepare graduates.

In New Hampshire, colleges offering associate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing paired up with hospitals to identify gaps in their curriculum and the weaknesses hospitals observed in graduates. Leaders of the four groups discussed their findings at a conference.

“There’s a perceived divide between what goes on in education and what entry-level nurses need in practice, so having this opportunity to work together really brought both sides together in their objectives in goal,” said Lim-Morison, who oversaw the so-called “gap analysis” performed by Colby-Sawyer and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“The daunting task for us on both sides is that with health care and the complexity of patient care just increasing exponentially, how do we prepare new nurses for that, and how do we give them the confidence so that they can sustain in that nursing practice?” she said.

Sharon George, co-director of the project’s New Hampshire component, is dean of nursing at St. Anselm College, which worked with Nashua Community College and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center to evaluate curriculum. One area her group identified as a problem was processing of patient information, particularly computerized medical records.

“How you access their information, what you do with it — it’s a new area, and it’s moving fast,” she said. “These are things we have to include in what we teach, without having to call it a separate course. They need to be incorporated into the nursing course.”

The analysis also revealed that students need to be taught more about the complexities of hospital systems, George said.

“We’ve tended to teach them, in the past, how to take care of a patient. But in order to take care of that patient, they have to consider the influence of the system, the total system, and how that affects the care of their patient,” she said.

Beyond addressing nursing school curriculum, the tri-state project also includes scholarships for nursing students who commit to teaching after earning their degrees and increasing nursing school capacity by using a centralized database to place students in jobs after graduation.

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