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UCLA to Bring Back Nursing Program

Times Staff Writers

To help ease California’s severe nursing shortage, UCLA officials have announced plans to reopen the university’s undergraduate nursing program to freshmen next fall after a decade-long closure.

None of UC’s other nine campuses currently offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing, although UC Irvine hopes to start such a program soon, officials say. UCLA stopped admitting freshmen to its previous program in 1995 because of state budget cuts, and the last students graduated in 1997.

The University of California regents recently allocated $5.2 million to fund the new bachelor’s program and expand graduate school studies in nursing at UCLA.

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California’s nursing shortfall is expected to intensify as the state’s population expands and ages and as hospitals rush to comply with California’s first-of-its-kind law mandating one nurse for every five patients in most wards starting this year. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month dropped his fight to suspend the law.

The escalating demand has state and local officials scrambling to increase capacity in existing nursing programs and create new ones. Many of the state’s other nursing programs -- at California State University campuses, private schools and community colleges -- have waiting lists of up to three years for admission. Even a new program at Cal State San Marcos, set to open in the fall, is already considered oversubscribed.

“What’s really driving all this is the state’s nursing crisis,” Marie Cowan, dean of UCLA’s nursing school, said of the decision to add new programs. “The need has escalated, but the number of slots in nursing programs has not kept pace.”

California now has the second-lowest nurse-to-population ratio in the nation, with only Nevada ranking lower, according to statistics cited by Cowan. With the state’s continuing population growth, the number of unfilled nursing jobs could exceed 122,000 by 2030, according to a recent study by UC San Francisco.

UCLA’s plan also calls for a new master’s-level clinical nursing program for students with no nursing experience, as well as an enrollment boost in the school’s existing program for those who are already licensed registered nurses. A small number of RNs now transfer to UCLA as undergraduates and earn both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in three years.

The curriculum for UCLA’s new undergraduate nursing program still must be approved by the university’s faculty but is expected to offer courses in case management, cost analysis and leadership, as well as more basic clinical training. Students will be able to minor in another subject, such as biology or psychology, to increase their base of knowledge.

Nursing students also will complete 40 hours each week of clinical work under the supervision of experienced nurses at UCLA Medical Center or other local hospitals, Cowan said.

About 50 students are expected to be admitted to the undergraduate program for the first year, with another 50 likely to enroll in the new entry-level master’s program. The nursing dean said the school hopes to double its current capacity of 300 nursing students within five years and plans to hire 22 additional faculty members.

For prospective nursing students such as Michele Maines, 32, of Encino, UCLA’s announcement is encouraging.

Maines, who is now a research associate at UCLA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, hopes to enroll in the proposed master’s degree program with the aim of entering nursing as a second career.

“I’m meant to be out there working with people, putting the knowledge that I have to use, but more in a hands-on way than sitting at a desk and doing research,” she said.

Maines, who already holds a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from UCLA and a master’s degree in gerontology from USC, said she found the options for nursing education programs very limited in Southern California. She was put off by the cost of tuition at private schools and by the long waiting lists at community colleges.

The planned master’s program at UCLA, she said, “will give me the ability to apply the knowledge I already have to a career that I’m really interested in ... without having to feel like I’m going to be stepping back” to the entry level of the nursing profession.

Another prospective master’s student, Catrina Rodriguez, 34, was inspired to become a nurse while working as the manager of a cardiovascular clinical research center. Many of the patients and research volunteers had relatively little knowledge of their own diseases or care, she said.

“They really needed somebody to help them in managing their healthcare,” she said.

Rodriguez is in the process of completing her application for the new master’s program. UC’s systemwide application deadline for the 2006-07 academic year is Wednesday.

The state’s other nursing programs, many of which have long waiting lists, also applauded the move.

“The state of California is in desperate need to educate high-quality, brand-new nurses,” said Ronda Mintz-Binder, dean of nursing at Los Angeles City College.

Mintz-Binder, who taught in the nursing program at UCLA from 1988 to 2000, said she hoped the expansion of UCLA’s master’s degree program would help relieve the state’s severe shortage of nurses by increasing its thin supply of nursing teachers.

Los Angeles City College, which launched a two-year associate’s degree program for registered nurses in 2002, is flooded with applicants. For the class of 30 students who began their studies this fall, for instance, the school received 265 applications, the dean said. Like many other community colleges, it admits students through a lottery system, selecting pre-qualified applicants by picking slips of paper out of a box.

All 14 Cal State campuses with bachelor’s degree programs in nursing have long waiting lists for entrance. In fact, demand already is higher than the expected capacity for classes starting at Cal State San Marcos in the fall, said Allison Jones, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Cal State system.

Eleven Cal State campuses also offer master’s degrees in nursing and hope to increase enrollment in those programs next year, officials said.

The application deadline for all Cal State nursing programs -- and many other majors for the university -- is Wednesday.

At UC Irvine, officials said the school is in the initial stages of gaining approval for a nursing program that would include undergraduate degrees.

UC San Francisco also has announced plans to increase enrollment in two master’s degree programs in nursing, one for students who hold a bachelor’s in nursing, the other for those with degrees in other fields. The total number of students will rise by about 40 from the current 500, according to Marylin Dodd, acting dean of the UC San Francisco school of nursing.

“It will help,” she said. “We’re behind, but we’re running as hard as we can to catch up.”


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