Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama Administration and Congress Invest in Nurses

Several major American nursing organizations are applauding the support demonstrated by Congress and the Obama administration for the nursing profession, with newly allocated funding that should have a profound impact on every aspect of nursing, including the central focuses of education, practice, retention and recruitment.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), $300 million were awarded to the National Health Service Corps and $200 million will be divided between the Nursing Workforce Development Programs (Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act) and the Health Professions Training Programs (Title VII). $10 billion will also be allocated for the National Institutes of Health, with $7.4 billion distributed to various Institutes, including the National Institute of Nursing Research, further demonstrating that nursing's contributions to both the clinical and research worlds is indeed taken seriously.

The provisions in H.R. 1 allow for money to be distributed directly to nursing students and schools of nursing, with allocations for Title VII programs like Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students and the Faculty Loan Repayment Program.

Additionally, the monies allocated for the National Health Service Corps will fund scholarships and loans to nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, primary care physicians, dentists, mental and behavioral health professionals, physician assistants and dental hygienists.

In blog posts leading up to President Obama's inauguration, I voiced cautious optimism (and some considerable doubt) that an Obama administration would pay close enough attention to the nursing shortage, addressing not only the need for increased scholarships and education funding for nursing students, but also funding to address the lack of qualified nursing professors available to educate new nurses. Seemingly, multiple levels of the nursing profession have been addressed under the auspices of these new programs, and the money allocated will not only provide scholarships for nursing students, but will also offer loan repayment programs for those nurses who might wish to teach but would likely be dissuaded by the relatively low salaries offered to nursing professors.

I am heartened by this news, and foresee a blossoming of the nursing profession at a time when a universal nursing shortage (and an economy in apparent free fall) inform the overarching zeitgeist that currently casts a pall over the entire health care industry. Yes, most nursing schools are filled to capacity, yet that capacity is generally hobbled by a profound shortage of professors, a reality which very well may be addressed as these funds become available.

These are difficult economic times for many Americans, and as President Obama's economic recovery plan is actualized, we will begin to see the ways in which the plan may succeed and fail. Over all, I feel optimistic that, in terms of the nursing profession and the profound shortage therein,we will sense a discernible sea change if the allocated funds are targeted and distributed as proposed. While I have not seen the fine print (and we all know that the large print can giveth and the small print taketh away), my hope is that the fine print will in no way diminish the potential impact of such an historically and economically significant investment in the future of nursing.

Despite the dire warnings and the hand wringing occuring nationwide as the unemployment roles grow, perhaps some optimism, positive movement and job growth within the nursing profession will have a ripple effect throughout the health care industry. And for this we can only hope.
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