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Nursing program “at capacity,” director says

More than $12 million is up for grabs to improve University of Maine System nursing facilities and program capacities. The proposed expansion to the University of Maine System’s nursing programs will primarily occur at regional campuses, and not at the flagship campus in Orono.

Director of the UMaine School of Nursing Dr. Mary Walker explained that the nursing program is already at capacity in terms of resources and enrollment. This year, the program received 1,308 qualified applications to fill 115 available seats, according to Walker. She said 2017 saw an increase in enrollment capacity, from around 85 available spots in the program in previous years to 111.

“[The School of Nursing] eliminated the one year post-BSN work requirement and the GRE as requirements for admission to the Master of Science in Nursing program … our applications to and enrollment in the graduate program, particularly the Family Nurse Practitioner program, are robust to say the least,” Walker said.

The UMaine nursing program has expanded enrollment by 35 percent in the last two years. However finite resources, classroom space, time constraints of full-time working faculty members and “restrictions on clinical placements,” restrict the ability of the program to expand according to Walker.

Walker said that while ballot Question 4 is specifically aimed at the regional campuses of the University of Maine System, UMaine won’t be entirely unaffected if the measure is approved by Maine voters.

“To my knowledge, the University of Maine School of Nursing was mentioned in one specific area — outreach to the Machias campus as a result of its incorporation last year into the University of Maine proper,” Walker said. “The School of Nursing will, obviously, receive some support for those outreach programmatic efforts, but support for the University of Maine School of Nursing was neither enumerated nor specified in the Bond rollout.”

In addition to UMaine Machias, Fort Kent and Augusta,  the University of Southern Maine would receive a huge amount of institutional support should the bond measure pass, prompting an anticipated 20 percent increase in “pre-licensure” program enrollment, according to a news release from the University of Maine System.

According to a USM news release, “funding from Question 4 will be used to double the space and capacity of the School of Nursing’s nursing simulation lab, a critical component of nursing education as it allows students to practice their skills — along with their peers and professors — in a setting that won’t cause harm to live patients.

Efforts to expand nursing enrollment are part of a five-year University of Maine System plan to fill a nursing workforce gap. In an Oct. 24 update, the Maine Nursing Action Coalition predicted that the state would need an additional 2,700 nurses by 2025.

Walker said that most of the responsibility to keep nurses in Maine after graduation falls to employers and not university administration. Despite the lack of programs or incentives to stay in Maine after graduating, more than 80 percent of UMaine nursing graduates go on to work in the state — at least initially.

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