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Challenges of Continuing Education in Nursing

With increased demand for a highly educated workforce in nursing, many nurses have returned to nursing schools. Unfortunately, in the U.S., the nursing schools are not able to accommodate all of them. According to the report by American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the enrollments for baccalaureate, master's and doctoral programs have shown a steady increase.

Out of the total, about 76,000 qualified nurses were turned away last year, mainly because of faculty shortages and lack of resources such as clinical teaching sites. According to AACN President Jane Kirschling, DNS, RN, this is both good and bad news. The good news is that more and more nurses are now turning to continuing education. The bad news is the challenge to find ways to educate enough nurses so that there will be a continuous stream of highly educated nurses to meet the complex needs in healthcare.

The Institute of Medicine's (IOM's) report also calls for more highly educated workforce – to the level of 80% of the nurses to have earned a baccalaureate degree by 2020. Leaders hope that this will boost the stream of nurses into graduate education programs. A highly educated workforce in nursing would indirectly provide a better patient outcome.

Generally a nurse needs a baccalaureate degree to pursue graduate degree. Presently there are a number of bridge programs where by a nurse can bypass this requirement. Those without the baccalaureate degree will have to return to school to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or a faculty member. This many nurses find it difficult as they juggle between a job and family responsibilities.

The major obstacle in getting more nurses for the graduate level programs is the funding. This aid is much less in the master's level and this deters many who are interested in pursuing the same. Schools also have their set of hindrances including resources like clinical sites and preceptors for master's level students.

All these factors reduce the number of nurses going into graduate programs which in turn affects the number of faculty who are needed to educate the future nurses. Aiken, professor of nursing and director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania, feels that very few are reaching that level. Beverly Malone, Ph.D., RN, CEO of the National League for Nursing (NLN), also agrees to this view.

The latest initiative sponsored by the Tri-Council for Nursing – the AACN, NLN, the American Nurses Association and the American Organization of Nurse Executives, gives some hope in this regard. This new two-year initiative is called Academic Progression in Nursing, or APIN. This initiative funds nine