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Letter to the Editor by Headen to Legislative: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: What’s in it for Nursing?

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June 24, 2010

Response by Cherese Headen to "Legislative: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: What’s in it for Nursing?" by Charles Alexandre and Greer Glazer (June 22, 2009).

Reply by Authors

Dear Editor:

I recently read the Legislative Column discussing what’s in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for nursing. I think it's great that President Obama has earmarked $500 million in the current budget to increase the number of nursing faculty and to provide scholarships and loan repayment to nursing students. However, I am concerned about how much of this money will actually reach those of us who need it now and when will it arrive.

I would like to share my recent experiences in trying to obtain my RN-BSN degree. I am currently a part-time Licensed Practical Nurse working in a New York City public hospital. I work in a medically underserved and economically impoverished community. This is by choice, not because I can't find work elsewhere. I started working in this hospital two years ago because I was told that I could continue to pursue my education via fully paid tuition and leave. I would only ‘owe’ the hospital one-and-a-half years service in return for every one year of paid education and leave. I wasn't concerned about this ‘payback’ because I already held a BA degree and was applying for an accelerated BSN program which would take only 12-15 months to complete.

I applied for my current BSN program in early 2009. Then my employer stated that, effective in March of 2009, the hospital would no longer fund its current Education and Leave Program. I applied for government education grants, such as the Pell Grant, at the end of February, but was denied because I already have a baccalaureate degree. I then attempted to secure a scholarship through my union, but was denied because my employer didn’t participate in the union's educational fund. The financial aid officer at my school told me in May that there were no scholarships available for nursing programs. The hospital at which I am continuing to work does have limited tuition reimbursement. However, because my education is fully paid for by loans with no out-of-pocket expenses (except books, fees, and incidental nursing expenses), I don't qualify for the tuition reimbursement. My education is now being financed by my school through a series of loans that already total $13,000, an amount that will increase in the coming year.

I am pleased that future nursing students can expect to benefit from the federal funds earmarked specifically to address the critical nursing shortage and to advance the education of already- licensed nurses. Many current and potential students should benefit from increases in scholarship/loans and an increase in nursing faculty which will directly influence the total number of students able to enroll in nursing programs.

However, let’s not forget about those of us who have slipped through the cracks because we already hold a degree or have applied for funding before President Obama earmarked money for nursing education via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2000. I can only work part time due to the rigors of my program. Hence my current financial resources are very limited. The loans are appreciated. I certainly would not be here without them. But will I be able to benefit from these upcoming grants and scholarships?  What about loan forgiveness?  I feel as if I will have to use my future extra income to pay off all the loans I am now incurring, and this is not a good feeling. I hope that for the sake of my mind and my financial status that soon I, too, will be able to benefit from some of these newly earmarked nursing education funds.

Respectfully,

Cherese Headen, LPN
New York, New York

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