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Students who are thinking of taking on a career in nursing will have plenty of options in Western New York, even if Niagara University drops its nursing program.

The board of trustees has recommended that the university shut down its College of Nursing because of declining enrollment, said the Rev. Richard J. Devine, acting college president. Only 29 freshmen enrolled in the university's College of Nursing this year. The program, which had 800 students in the late 1970s, has only 118 today.

Dolores A. Bower, dean of the College of Nursing, said that next month she plans to present the board a proposal for keeping the college afloat. She would not go into specifics about any approaches that her team might take.

There are currently nine other places in Western New York to acquire either two-year or four-year nursing degrees.

The University at Buffalo offers anything from a bachelor of science degree in nursing to a doctorate in nursing science. The Erie, Genesee, Jamestown and Niagara County community colleges also offer nursing programs.

On the private school front, students may opt for D'Youville, which offers bachelor and master degrees in the field; Daemen, which also offers bachelor and master options; Trocaire College, which offers an associate degree; and Villa Maria, which also offers an associate degree.

Carol A. Gutt, chairwoman of the nursing department of D'Youville College, said employers in Western New York are still looking for nurses. The field is diversifying, she said, with multiple career paths opening. Such choices might include jobs as a nurse practitioner, physician's assistant or clinical nurse specialist in community health.

D'Youville's enrollment is currently over 300, said Gutt. She said there has been a lot of media focus recently on hospital downsizing, but that the situation locally is not similar to places around the country.

According to Gutt, the National League for Nursing and the American Academy of Colleges for Nursing have predicted a shortfall of over 700,000 nurses across in the U.S. in the year 2005. She added that at a recent conference in Boston, Mass., the Worcester, Mass., area went through a similar problem, but now there is a lack of nurses there.

"They're predicting a massive shortfall," said Gutt. Other areas of the country, such as California, Texas and Arizona, are also hurting, she said. "They're desperate for nurses .--.--. Its very different from what we see in the Buffalo area."

Staff members in the nursing division at D'Youville are emphasizing graduating with a bachelor's degree, said Gutt. "They need nurses with higher educational preparation so there's going to be a shortfall."

The nursing programs at Millard Fillmore and Sisters hospitals also closed this year.

"I think locally we've been affected by the negativity related to the layoffs and the downsizing," said Gutt. "We're kind of holding our own, but within a few years, I think the picture is going to change drastically."

"I think that people should start looking at nursing as a very viable career," she said.

Carol A. Fanutti, director of nursing at Trocaire College, agreed with Gutt that nursing as a field is picking up once again. "Actually, (graduates) can get jobs in Rochester, Syracuse, and the Buffalo area is opening up," she said.

Hospitals such as Mercy in Buffalo and St. Joseph in Cheektowaga are often hiring, said Fanutti.

"We've been saying we need to get it out into the paper because this is happening," Fanutti said. "People are thinking that there's no jobs out there."

Trocaire, a two-year college that offers an agreement with Niagara University so that credits will transfer, has a current nursing enrollment of about 120, she said. Five years ago, about 400 nursing students attended the school.

She blamed the decrease in enrollment on more options for students, especially women. Also, "I think the biggest thing is they don't realize there are jobs . . . . Across the country there are jobs all over."

Fanutti said recruiters from all over the country have come to Trocaire to entice prospective nurses to their states.

As a transition in the nursing field, Trocaire has been focusing lately on teaching students how to take care of people in their homes, instead of in a hospital setting.

Bower said that the nation needs to recruit younger people to be nurses and that someone needs to impress upon high school guidance counselors that nursing is a viable field.

"The figures that I examined show that nursing is down everywhere," said Bower. "There's a projected bigger shortage of nurse educators and teachers . . . . That population is even more scarce."

"We obviously have concerns given the number of hospitals in the Western New York area . . . . The need for nurses does not go away," said Antonette J. Cleveland, president of Niagara County Community College, which offers a two-year nursing program.

She echoed concerned brought out by the heads of the other colleges that still offer nursing degrees. The two-year college has an agreement with Niagara University that allows students to register for instruction at both NU and NCCC, which allows for a smoother transition to the university.

Bower said the board of trustees approved her request on Dec. 14 to allow the current freshmen in the Niagara program to be able to graduate in December 2002, in an accelerated program.

Two problems will arise if NU discontinues its program, said Bower. Nurses will not be trained who are "knowledgeable and caring," and she predicts a nationwide shortage of nurses in the very near future already.

The closing of one more college will add to that need, she said.

Paul L. Fazekas, who is taking courses at Niagara to be a nurse practitioner, first has to gain enough credits to earn his RN degree. "Now I'm going to have to go somewhere else for the nurse practitioner part."

A psychologist part-time, Fazekas said that he wants to gain his nurse practitioner degree so that he can administer drugs to his patients. He took the program at NU so that he could gain his nurse practitioner license more quickly.

"This is unique to Niagara and it won't be open to people like myself in the future. That's unfortunate," he said.

Diane F. Lee, a graduate of the nursing program at NU, said she was distressed when she heard they might shut down the nursing school. "I can't imagine them eliminating a program for caring professionals," she said.

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