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Upcoming bond issue will address UMaine nursing needs

The results of next week’s vote on a bond issue could have huge implications for the nursing workforce in Maine.

Ballot Question 4 asks Mainers if they approve a $49 million bond issue that will, among other things, work to “expand workforce development capacity and to attract and retain students to strengthen Maine’s economy and future workforce.”

A large chunk of this money would go towards strengthening nursing programs at University of Maine System schools, which contribute more than 800 graduates to the state nursing workforce annually, according to statistics from the Maine Nursing Action Coalition.

According to a plan unveiled by the University of Maine System in September, investment in the nursing workforce will target different improvements at individual universities. Many campuses will receive lab upgrades should the bond issue pass. Other components of the plan include creation of “an industry-leading online nursing program” and expansion of a program to help Mainers in rural communities to transition into “local health careers.”

Total nursing enrollment in the entire University of Maine System grew 10.7 percent from 2010 to 2017, according to statistics from the UMS Office of Institutional Research. The Maine Nursing Action Coalition released updated statistics on Oct. 24 that said the projection of the workforce deficit of nurses had decreased from 3,200 to 2,700. Still, state officials anticipate that an aging workforce will mean that many registered nurses will be of retirement age between now and 2025. Currently, 51 percent of registered nurses in Maine are older than 51, according to The Center for Health Affairs and the Maine Nursing Action Coalition. The gap will need to be filled, and many are looking to young graduates for the solution.

But while the state is placing some burden of responsibility on students to reignite the workforce, not everyone is so certain that they will stay in Maine after graduating.

Hannah Welborn is a fourth-year nursing student at UMaine who says she will probably stay in the state after graduation, but hasn’t ruled out moving away.

“I have never been asked where I plan to live or work after graduation by either the School of Nursing or the University,” Welborn said. “I think that they should be asking this question of more students to get an idea earlier on in the program.”

Welborn, who decided to go to UMaine because it was the best option financially, said that she does not believe there are any programs incentivizing staying in the state to work after graduation. She also noted some limitations at UMaine that might make increasing enrollment difficult.

“The School of Nursing has begun to increase enrollment, in order to have more nurses graduating from the University,” Welborn said. “However, they can only do so much of this, because they do not have the faculty of clinical practice placements for a large increase in enrollment.”

In the fall of 2017, UMaine had 460 undergraduate and graduate students in its nursing program. Statistics from the UMaine Office of Institutional Research show that this number has remained relatively consistent since 2013.

The UMaine School of Nursing was unavailable for comment.

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