Program addresses critical shortage of public health nurse leaders
Responding to a critical shortage of nurses prepared for leadership in public health, the School of Nursing at Oregon Health & Science University is making it possible for nurses to earn a master's degree in public health nursing online.
The program is part of a new $800,000, five-year collaborative agreement with the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to increase the number of public health nurses in executive and middle-management positions. There are nine students currently admitted to the program that began in January.
A recent report on the nursing shortage published by the Northwest Health Foundation notes: "The pool of R.N.s with public health experience is very small. . . . Almost more alarming is the rapidly retiring group of public health nursing supervisors."
The online program will make it possible for rural Oregonians to work toward their degrees at home to address this need. "Oregon is a rural state, and that's problematic for nurses who want more education but who, for a variety of reasons, can't leave home," said Darlene McKenzie, R.N., Ph.D., professor of nursing and project co-director. "We've begun to put courses online for students to access from a distance. The new grant allows us to transfer the entire curriculum to an online format."
Student Margo Lalich of Cannon Beach, Ore., said she chose this program because of the convenience.
"I live on the Coast, two hours from Portland. Had this program not been online, I wouldn't be getting the degree at this time. I am not in a position to be moving my family or changing jobs at this time," Lalich said. She works two part-time nursing jobs and is raising two children. Lalich said she usually goes online at about 9 p.m. and works until midnight. Weekends are also taken up with course work.
OHSU is part of a consortium of Oregon universities offering a master's degree in public health. Called the Oregon Master of Public Health Program (OMPH), the collaboration includes OHSU, Portland State University and Oregon State University. It combines broad training in public health with specific education in one of the specialty tracts offered at the participating universities. U.S. News & World Report ranks the program eighth among the country's graduate programs in public health.
The online program aims to bolster public health throughout the state by educating more nurses for leadership positions. "Many public health nurse leaders are due to retire in the next several years," said Cecelia Capuzzi, R.N., Ph.D., professor and chairwoman of the School's Population-Based Nursing Department and an OMPH coordinating councilor. "Nursing education programs are partnering with state and local public health leaders to meet this upcoming need. The OHSU School of Nursing is well situated because of its capabilities to offer entire programs to distance learners." OHSU also offers its R.N./B.S. Program online.
The school will collaborate with state and local health departments to promote recruitment and retention of master's-prepared public health nurses into leadership positions. The program will use a variety of distance-learning and interdisciplinary approaches.