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Vitale-Buono Measure To Encourage Nursing Education Approved In Senate Budget Committee

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Barbara Buono which would establish a loan redemption program for nursing educators in New Jersey was unanimously approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“The key to a quality nursing workforce in New Jersey is quality nursing educators,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and a member of the Senate Budget panel. “However, many of our best, most talented and most experienced nursing professionals – who would be ideal to pass along the skills they’ve learned – can make much more money practicing, rather than teaching. New Jersey needs to provide competitive incentives, including loan redemption for nurses who have achieved their graduate degrees, to make sure we have the teachers needed to educate the nurses of tomorrow.”

The bill, S-626, would establish the Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The program would provide loan redemption in exchange for full-time faculty employment at a school of nursing in New Jersey for a five-year period following the completion of a State-approved graduate program. Under the bill, loan redemption would only be available to State residents who had graduated from an approved graduate degree in nursing program, who maintained a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher, who had finished their approved coursework within a one-year period prior to being hired for full-time faculty employment, and who are working as a full-time nursing educator in New Jersey.

The bill was amended in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee to dedicate a fixed percentage of the existing primary care physician and dentist loan redemption program for the nursing faculty loan redemption program.

“While the State comes to grips with massive shortfalls in the current and next year’s budgets, we need to capitalize on existing programs to meet the needs of the people of New Jersey,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex, and Chair of the Senate Budget Committee. “Government shouldn’t come to a halt as we work through the national economic downturn and shortfalls in revenue, but we have to be smart about committing the funds we have. By taking advantage of the existing health care loan redemption program, we can avoid new expenditures which will make our job more difficult when we craft the FY 2010 budget next year.”

The lawmakers noted that many qualified nursing educators do not enter into the teaching profession because it can be costly to complete the graduate degree program, and many of them can achieve higher salaries on the hospital floor, rather than in a classroom. They added that this measure would act to encourage more nurses to share their knowledge with students seeking to be a part of health care in the Garden State.

“Especially during the current economic crisis, many professionals might be nervous about changing career paths,” said Senator Vitale. “A loan redemption program for nursing educators might be the sort of incentive we need to entice the State’s most seasoned nurses to share their insight and experience on the front lines of health care with others. By encouraging more nurses to make the switch to teaching, we would be better-equipped to meet the demands of nursing schools which are short-staffed in New Jersey.”

“Good nurses are the backbone of the health care industry, and we need a quality nursing education program in the State to ensure that new nurses are prepared for the challenges of the job,” said Senator Buono. “This bill would remove some of the cost barriers many of the best nurses face when trying to decide whether to use their education and experience on the teaching side of the profession. If New Jersey is going to meet the health care needs of the 21st century, we need a nurse education loan redemption program for nursing faculty in our State’s nursing schools.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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