Congresswoman Castor highlights new $3.5M VA Nursing Academy

– Partnership between USF and James A. Haley VA Hospital designed to help alleviate Florida’s nursing shortage –

L to R: U.S. Rep Kathy Castor talks about the USF College of Nursing’s partnership with James A. Haley VA Hospital, flanked by Marian Hardwick and Carey Ledee, among the first USF nursing students enrolled in the new VA Nursing Academy.

TAMPA, FL (Oct. 27, 2008) — A new nursing academy will help alleviate the state’s nursing shortage, offer care to wounded veterans and create high-paying jobs in the Tampa Bay area, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said today.

“It marries a number of missions,” Castor said. “This VA Nursing Academy is a wonderful new initiative that builds upon the collaboration of USF and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.

With the Haley VA’s new state-of-the-art spinal cord injury wing as a backdrop, Castor was joined at the news conference by Patricia Burns, PhD, dean of the USF College of Nursing, and Sandra Janzen, associate director for patient care services/nursing programs at the Haley VA Hospital.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has provided $3.5 million to USF’s College of Nursing to establish the VA Nursing Academy. USF’s nursing school is one of 11 across the country to date selected to form nursing academies with 10 VA medical centers. The money allows Haley and the nursing college to hire five faculty members this year and another five next year. That, in turn, allows the school to enroll more nursing students.

As a result of the program, 100 new nurses are expected to graduate with their baccalaureate degrees in the next four years, Janzen said. If they join the VA system, those new nurses can expect starting salaries of about $47,000, she said.

“These are high-paying jobs for our community at a time when unemployment is on the rise,” Castor said. “These are good paying jobs with good benefits.”

L to R: Patricia Burns, PhD, dean of the USF College of Nursing; Sandra Janzen, associate director for patient care services/nursing at the Haley VA Hospital; and Congresswoman Kathy Castor responded to questions about the partnership’s impact on Florida’s nursing shortage.

The nursing students do clinical work at Haley, where they gain first-hand experience treating the nation’s veterans. They will be exposed to specialized services including mental health, physical rehabilitation, polytrauma and spinal cord injury care. Haley officials hope the nursing students will eventually work at the VA hospital.

The program has three main goals: to expand teaching faculty, to improve recruitment and retention of nurses, and to create new educational and research opportunities.

Florida’s nursing shortage is acute. The state is short nearly 13,000 registered nurses this year. By 2020, the shortage is expected to reach more than 52,000, according to the Florida Center for Nursing.

Part of the problem is nursing schools are forced to turn away qualified applicants. In 2007, for example, nursing schools had to say no to more than 40,000 qualified applicants, primarily because the schools didn’t have enough faculty members to teach the aspiring nurses, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Students enrolled in the VA Nursing Academy are eligible to apply for $10,000 scholarships awarded through USF’s College of Nursing and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Nursing Academy initiative underscores Castor’s work on higher education, health care and military affairs. Castor pushed for the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which provides loan forgiveness to students entering careers in public service – including nursing. Congress also allocated $2.4 million for a program through the USF College of Nursing to help veterans cope with emotional health and other problems.

See Related Story:
USF awarded $100,000 for RWJF New Careers in Nursing Program

USF College of Nursing Dean Patricia Burns with Kathy Castor.

USF nursing student Marian Hardwick, a participant in the VA Nursing Academy, is interviewed by ABC Action News anchor Sarina Fazan.

Hardwick and Ledee help out veterans Alfred Rozelle (second from left) and Charles Alston during lunchtime at the Haley VA spinal cord injury unit. Cas Cahill, far left, USF assistant professor of nursing, is director of the VA Nursing Academy.

Alston shares a laugh with nursing student Ledee.

– Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications