EAU CLAIRE — Four University of Wisconsin System nursing programs are offering new fellowship and loan forgiveness programs to encourage nurses to pursue doctoral degrees or postdoctoral training and assume nurse educator positions in Wisconsin. The overall goal is to address the nursing faculty shortage.

The $3.2 million Nurses for Wisconsin initiative — funded through a UW System incentive grant program — comes in response to predictions that Wisconsin could see a shortage of 20,000 nurses by 2035.

A current shortage of nurse educators in Wisconsin greatly limits the number of students who can be accepted into nursing programs in the state, said Dr. Linda Young, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UW-Eau Claire.

“UW System nursing programs have the leadership, academic programs and curriculum necessary to increase the number of graduates from the baccalaureate programs,” Young said. “But a shortage of nurse educators prevents us from enrolling more nursing students in our programs. This collaborative initiative to invest in nurse educators is an important first step in meeting the need to enroll more nursing students for Wisconsin.”

In 2012-13, 50-80 percent of qualified undergraduate students who applied to nursing schools at four UW System institutions were denied admission primarily because there was not enough qualified nursing faculty to teach them, Young said.

Nurses For Wisconsin logoLed by UW-Eau Claire, the new initiative will provide fellowships to nurses enrolling in doctoral programs at UW-Eau Claire, UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee or UW Oshkosh. All pre- and postdoctoral fellowships will provide opportunities for mentorship in the nurse educator role.

The predoctoral fellowships will support students pursuing either Ph.D.s or doctor of nursing practice degrees. Predoctoral nursing fellows will receive tuition, fees and stipends in exchange for a three-year commitment to teach at a UW System nursing school.

Postdoctoral fellowships to advance nursing research and evidence-based practice also will be supported. The postdoctoral nursing fellows will receive a renewable one-year fellowship, with stipend and benefits, as part of a three-year teaching commitment in a UW system nursing program.

In addition, the four project schools are offering loan forgiveness as an incentive to attract new nursing faculty with a Ph.D. or doctor of nursing practice degree. This program will repay up to $50,000 of the new hire’s student loans in exchange for a three-year teaching commitment.

According to the Wisconsin Center for Nursing, the current average age of Wisconsin nursing faculty members is 58 years, and almost six out of 10 faculty plan to leave the workforce within 10 years. This points to the need to not only increase nursing faculty numbers beyond current levels, but also to offset those retirements, Young said.

“To meet anticipated workforce needs, strategies for increasing the number of nursing faculty need to be dramatic and immediate,” Young said.

Enrollment information for the Nurses for Wisconsin initiative can be found online at www.nursesforwisconsin.org.