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Nursing schools, students prepare for health care reform’s effects

Tuesday, September 07, 2010  
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By Melissa Westphal
BUSINESSROCKFORD.COM
Posted Sep 07, 2010 @ 07:28 PM
Last update Sep 07, 2010 @ 07:31 PM

ROCKFORD —
A doctor’s appointment may not feel much like a traditional doctor’s appointment pretty soon.

Local health systems will be relying on a broader mix of providers to handle the load of uninsured patients that health care reform will add, particularly primary care and family doctors, whose numbers already are dwindling as young doctors are lured away by higher-paying specialty practices.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can perform duties similar to those of physicians, including diagnosing and treating illnesses and educating patients about disease prevention. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the fields to be two of the fastest-growing professions in the coming decade.

Saint Anthony College of Nursing in Rockford responded to those needs by creating a new program this fall for family nurse practitioners, nurse educators and clinical nurse specialists.

"We had more applicants than we could accept, which is very positive for this first application cycle,” said Shannon Lizer, dean of graduate affairs and research. "We’re continuing to see interest even though classes just started. ... We think it’s great because this is a big decision for nurses to make, particularly right now when things are tough economically. Nurses are looking ahead toward career development.”

Saint Anthony accepted 17 students in the three programs, and Lizer said they received more than twice that number in applications. The class includes nurses at the beginning of their careers and nurses who have been working for decades.

Advanced degrees are as lucrative, career- and salary-wise, as they are for schools and hospitals. Saint Anthony’s program offers a mix of online and on-campus classes and clinicals so students can still work and learn.

"All of us work,” student Stacia Sackmaster said during a class at Saint Anthony last week. "I have two small children, and this worked with my life.”

Rockford College and Rock Valley College also offer nursing degree programs, and the Northern Illinois Online Initiative for Nursing program offers a hybrid creation that’s a mix of online and on-campus classes through a partnership between local colleges, area hospitals and health systems.

Northern Illinois University in DeKalb offers nursing degrees and a family nurse practitioner program.

Lizer said Saint Anthony officials are talking about adding a post-master’s family nurse practitioner program and a paramedic-to-registered-nurse program. Other schools, like Rockford College, report increased interest in advanced degrees that would allow for more collaboration in health care.

"It’s a model to give patients the best access at the time they need it,” Lizer said. "There aren’t enough physicians, and partnerships work.”

This story appeared at http://www.rrstar.com/businessrockford/x353263091/Medical-schools-prepare-for-health-care-reform-s-effects on September 7, 2010.

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