By Christina Calloway
Gov. Susana Martinez’ proposal to boost New Mexico’s health care workforce includes the expansion of a program that provides financial assistance to nursing educators pursuing higher degrees in nursing.
It’s an issue she spoke passionately about Friday at Eastern New Mexico University, where area educators, local legislators and members of the medical community were present.
It’s also an issue that directly impacts the area, with nursing being one of the largest programs at Clovis Community College and ENMU continuing to grow its new nursing program.
The Republican governor is asking for support from the state Legislature in expanding the Nurse Educator Loan-for-Service Program to any nursing professional practicing in New Mexico who wishes to continue their professional development by earning a higher degree.
The program, which currently provides financial assistance to nursing educators employed by the state’s colleges and universities, forgives a portion of student loans for every academic year of service.
The expansion of Medicaid potentially adding up to 170,000 new patients in the state under the Affordable Care Act strengthens the urgency to recruit students to the medical field, according to Martinez.
She added that all but one of the state’s 33 counties are federally designated as health profession shortage areas.
“In other words, as our health care system changes, our statewide need for health care professionals will increase,” Martinez said.
Martinez also pushed for a common nursing curriculum that institutions across the state would use. This would keep the curriculum consistent among the schools and make it easier for students who transfer to stay on track with their degrees.
“In the past, we’ve made it very hard for nurses to receive the education they both want and need by not having a common nursing curriculum in New Mexico,” she said. “Until now, there have been countless roadblocks in the way of nurses who want to practice at the highest level possible at home, in the communities where they already live and work.”
CCC President Becky Rowley said the nursing shortage affects the rural areas in a profound way since health care access is already limited.
“This is the single most important workforce issue in the area,” Rowley said.
Rowley expressed her support for the loan service program by connecting CCC to the issue. She said an 8-to-1 student to faculty ratio is necessary in a clinical setting and if CCC accepts more nursing students, it would have to hire more staff.
Rowley added that about half of the nursing students that graduate stay in the area and attend ENMU to obtain a bachelor degree.
Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, said expansion to the loan program received support from both parties but never made it to the Senate floor last year.
He hopes this year the Senate will bring the issue to the forefront.
“We just need to let senators know this is something that people want and people need,” Woods said.