Nursing Education Bills Need Your Support

Now that Congress has finally appropriated funding to implement the landmark Nurse Reinvestment Act of 2002–signed into law last August in response to the national nursing shortage but not funded until February 2003–an exciting array of new programs are in the works to encourage the next generation of nurses to begin or continue their professional education. These opportunities include grants to fund nursing scholarships, internships and residencies, career ladder programs, geriatric education programs and much more. 

In addition, several new pieces of legislation have been introduced in the current 108th Congress that could–if they can garner enough bipartisan support to reach the President’s desk–do much to increase minority students’ access to nursing education. These bills include:

  • The Nurse Loan Forgiveness Act of 2003 (H.R. 501), sponsored by U.S. Representatives Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.). This legislation, which would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, would create a student loan forgiveness program for nurses, to encourage young people to enter and continue in the nursing profession. Nursing graduates who agree to work at a medical facility for at least five years would be eligible for up to $17,000 in loan forgiveness. The full text of this bill is available online at www.theorator.com/bills108/hr501.html.
  • The Teacher and Nurse Support Act of 2003 (H.R. 934), another proposed amendment to the Higher Education Act. Introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who is a nurse, this dual-purpose bill is also designed to address the nation’s severe teacher shortage. Its nursing provisions would establish college loan forgiveness and loan cancellation programs for nurses who work in clinical settings, as well as for nursing faculty. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has also introduced a version of this bill in the Senate.
  • The Recruitment and Diversity in Nursing Act (H.R. 920), originally introduced last year but not acted upon before the 107th Congress adjourned, has been reintroduced by Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.). This bill would amend the Public Health Service Act to create programs aimed at promoting careers in nursing to racial and ethnic minorities, men, and other groups underrepresented in the profession. It calls for the creation of a federal scholarship program for nursing students, along with grants for promoting nursing to elementary and high school students.

Unfortunately, the future of these bills is uncertain at best. With the Republican-controlled Congress preoccupied with the budget deficit and the aftermath of the war in Iraq, the likelihood of any of this legislation being addressed in the 108th Congress is not strong. H.R. 501, with a Republican sponsor and 48 cosponsors, seems to have the best chance of winning bipartisan support, but it will probably not be dealt with until the Higher Education Act is brought up for amendment next year.

Nurses who do not want to see these bills get lost in the shuffle can help by writing or emailing their Congressmen and Senators and urging them to support this legislation. You can find your legislators’ addresses at www.congress.org (click on “Write Elected Officials”).

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