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January 24, 2006 > Nursing program expands

Nursing program expands

by Patty Hefner

A $1.7 million grant from John Muir Health is allowing Cal State East Bay to create a bachelor's degree nursing program in Contra Costa County.

The grant, the largest donation ever made to the university's nursing department, will sponsor 20 students a year over the next three years adding 60 new RNs to the health care workforce.

"John Muir Health is proud to partner with Cal State East Bay to create a bachelor's degree nursing program in Contra Costa County," said Donna Brackley, senior vice president, Patient Care Services, at John Muir Medical Center, Concord Campus. "Both organizations have a strong commitment to quality programs and will build upon that commitment in this public-private partnership to provide nursing education."

Cal State East Bay's nursing program received 650 applications for fall 2005 and would normally have room for only 65, said Carolyn Fong, the new chair of the nursing and health sciences department. The John Muir grant allowed the university to admit 85.

"It's a good match," said Fong of the partnership with John Muir Health. "We saw the need to expand, and it's a win-win for everybody involved."

The nursing shortage is especially acute in California, which has the lowest ratio of nurses to population in the United States. According to the 2004 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for every 100,000 residents, California has 590 working nurses. That number is far below the national average of 825 nurses per 100,000.

The aging of the baby boomers has hit health care systems with a double whammy. Just as the need for more nurses grows, more RNs are reaching retirement age.

In 1980, 40.5 percent of RNs were under the age of 35, compared to only 16.6 percent in 2004. The average age of nurses, according to the sample survey, is nearly 47.

The first 20 students admitted under the John Muir Health grant have been studying at the Hayward campus, but Fong expects to move the program to the Concord campus in fall 2006. That will be the first time that Contra Costa County has had a four-year nursing program at a public institution. Los Medanos College in Pittsburg and Contra Costa College in San Pablo have two-year nursing programs. Cal State East Bay has offered some RN-to-BSN courses in Concord. That program allows nurses with a valid California license to return to school to earn a bachelor of science in nursing degree.

"The nursing programs that exist in Contra Costa are over-subscribed," said Concord Campus Dean Peter Wilson. "What we're trying to do is make a difference in nursing. "The nursing program is a perfect way to introduce a four-year program to the Concord Campus," Wilson said, "and make it a hub for allied health and human services curriculum."

California Postsecondary Education Commission policy prevents the Concord Campus from competing with the local community colleges by offering lower-division courses. But Wilson said exceptions are made for high-demand programs like nursing that can't serve all the students who want to enroll.

The program has been accelerated so students can complete the training in two years and three months. They will do all their clinical practice at John Muir Health rather than rotate to different hospitals as is typical in a nursing program, Fong said.

John Muir Health includes John Muir Medical Center, Walnut Creek Campus; John Muir Medical Center, Concord Campus (formerly Mt. Diablo Medical Center); John Muir Physician Network; John Muir Behavioral Health Center and John Muir Medical Center, Brentwood Campus (outpatient services). John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek serves as Contra Costa County's only trauma center.

"When they graduate, the students have no contractual obligation to work for John Muir Health, however, students have a tendency to stay and build a career in the area they live in," said Fong. So she expects many of the graduates will be Contra Costa residents who get their first jobs with John Muir Health.

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