Debate whether bill to graduate more nurses cuts red tape or cuts corners

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(Photo supplied/Pixabay)

Indiana’s nursing schools disagree on whether a bill to help them graduate more students is cutting red tape or cutting corners.

Indiana hospitals have been grappling with a nursing shortage for years, and say the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse, with four-thousand nursing jobs sitting unfilled. And nursing schools say their ability to help close the gap by training new graduates is limited by the size of their faculty and the availability of required clinical training for student nurses.

The House has passed a bill to help schools handle more students by letting them complete up to half their clinical practice with simulations. The current limit is a quarter of training hours. The bill would also remove a requirement that at least half the faculty at two-year nursing programs be full-time.

Ivy Tech has nursing programs at 19 of its 32 campuses. Vice president Mary Jane Michalak says the school turned away 300 qualified applicants this year because there wouldn’t be enough faculty to handle them. She also points to a State Board of Nursing advisory capping nursing schools’ enrollment growth at 25-percent a year. The bill would eliminate that cap.

Michalak says allowing schools to hire as many adjunct faculty as they want would allow Ivy Tech to handle more students, and would avoid pulling nurses out of hospital work to put them in the classroom.

But administrators at the University of Southern Indiana’s nursing school sharply criticize the proposed change. Interim chair Ryan Butler says professors’ responsibilities to their students extend far beyond the classroom, to mentoring and counseling students, and helping to shape the school’s curriculum.

University of Indianapolis nursing dean Norma Hall declares nursing students will receive an inferior education if the changes to faculty and clinical requirements take effect. Ivy Tech nursing professor Carol Pogue says simulations are no substitute for real-world experience. She says students understand the stakes aren’t real when the “patient” is a plastic mannequin. She says she’s seen student nurses freeze, faint, or break down crying when confronted with the real thing.

A Senate committee has already tweaked the language from the House version, leaving the full-time faculty quota in place for four-year schools. The panel unanimously sent the bill to the full Senate, but several members say they still have misgivings they’d like to see addressed before voting on a final version.

Senate supporters note nursing schools could still keep tighter requirements if they choose — the bill loosens only the minimum standard. I-U School of Nursing dean Robin Newhouse didn’t object to the increased use of simulated training, but says I-U wouldn’t necessarily go that route. She says there would be further discussions if the bill passes.

The bill also creates additional licensing pathways for nurses who have trained and worked abroad.

Logansport Representative Ethan Manning (R), the bill’s author, says hospitals expect to need five-thousand more nurses over the next nine years. And with more nurses retiring over that span, he says nursing schools would need to produce another 13-hundred graduates a year to meet the need.

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