Reducing the Gap

Karen McGurk '10 (PhD) demonstrates the proper method of in-line tracheal suctioning


Earning a PhD in nursing was always a dream for Karen McGurk. Problem was, taking out thousands of dollars in loans wasn’t an option. “It would have been too much of a burden on my family,” the 58-year-old says.

But thanks to a federal program designed to ease the nursing shortage, she proudly received her PhD in May. “I’m so grateful to be a recipient,” says McGurk. Under the program, 85 percent of her $38,000 in loans will be forgiven in exchange for her teaching over the next four years.

Few realize how the shortage of nursing faculty affects the supply of nurses. “We have hundreds of students who apply each year and would love to be nurses,” says McGurk, who teaches at Palomar College in San Diego. “But there’s always a waiting list because there aren’t enough faculty to teach them.”

Educating nurses is also labor intensive. A ratio of one faculty member for 10 to 12 students, for example, is required for the clinical training of registered nurses. Now McGurk, who specializes in training nurses to care for patients with heart failure, diabetes and other serious illnesses, can also teach master’s degree students at the university level.

Last spring, six USD students, including McGurk, earned PhDs through the assistance of the Nurse Faculty Loan Program. At graduation, five of the six had full-time faculty positions and one had a part-time position.

USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science will soon be able to do even more to train nurse educators. Last summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the school a $1.17 million grant that will allow 36 continuing students and 17 new applicants to receive loans under the program. USD’s grant was the third largest in the nation among the $23.5 million in grants for the program funded through the 2010 appropriations process.

“Nationally we need a projected one million new registered nurses by 2020,” says Sally Brosz Hardin, dean of USD’s School of Nursing. “By providing nurses an incentive to become educators, these grants can have a major impact in reducing the severe shortage facing California and the nation.”

As the sole graduate-only nursing school in San Diego, USD is uniquely positioned to alleviate the nursing shortage through the preparation of nurse faculty and advanced practice nurses. At California State University, San Marcos, 50 percent of the nursing faculty are USD graduates. They make up 34 percent of the faculty at Point Loma Nazarene University and 21 percent at San Diego State University.

Educating faculty to teach new nurses is just one way the school is impacting health care, Hardin points out. “By producing most of the advanced degreed and practiced nurses who are the executive nurse leaders and specialty care managers, we are helping to drive patient care and quality at hospitals and health care providers.” — Liz Harman