FARMINGTON — During a news conference Monday at San Juan College, Gov. Susana Martinez announced that all higher education institutions in the state will offer a common nursing curriculum, which will allow students to earn their bachelor of arts in nursing at the college.
"The individuals who wishes to further their nursing education can do so without living in Albuquerque or Las Cruces," said Suzanne Smith, San Juan Regional Medical Center chief nursing officer and speaker at the conference.
Martinez also spoke about several legislative and budget proposals that aim to boost the state's healthcare workforce.
Deputy Chief of Staff Scott Darnell said the proposals are in anticipation of Medicaid's expansion, which will add up to 170,000 eligible New Mexicans. As a result, the state will need a larger nursing workforce, he said. Without it, he said, Medicaid expansion would be "in vain."
"Nurses are the biggest number of healthcare providers," said Nisa Bruce, nursing program director at the college, who also spoke at the conference.
The common nursing curriculum will also allow nursing students to transfer to other schools without losing their credits, Darnell said.
Allowing students to earn their bachelors in nursing will also provide opportunity to enter a master's or doctoral program, said Rhonda Schaefer, the college's marketing and public relations director. She said that would fill nurse practitioner and nursing faculty shortages.
The college already offers an associate degree in nursing.
Smith said students who earn those higher degrees can then become faculty and teach other local students, adding, though, that it is difficult to determine how many students will stay in the area.
Martinez said nursing is the largest healthcare profession in the country, and more are expected to seek employment in the field.
"By 2020," she said, reading at the conference from prepared materials, "the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 1.2 million additional RNs (registered nurses) will be needed to work in acute care hospitals, long-term care facilities, community health centers, nursing schools and other areas."