Two Mercer-area nurses are each receiving a $50,000 scholarship in addition to tuition and fees each year for four years to complete their doctoral studies and ensure there are enough nurses to meet the state’s needs.

Connie Kartoz, of West Windsor, and Rahshida Atkins, of Ewing, are earning their doctoral degrees in nursing from Seton Hall and Rutgers universities respectively.

They are among 29 state nursing scholars receiving financial assistance to earn their degrees. The New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI), a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, is providing scholarships to help nursing students complete their graduate or doctoral studies.

In exchange scholars commit to teaching in the state for at least three years as a full-time faculty member at a New Jersey based pre-licensure nursing program, according to a prepared statement.

The nursing initiative’s goal is to increase the number of nurse faculty in the state to train future nurses so that there are enough to meet state residents’ needs.

As of May 2009, there were 11,440 nurses in the state, according to the initiative. The average age of a nurse is 50, and 15 percent of registered nurses are expected to retire in five years.

In order to maintain the current nurse supply, 18,734 nurses are needed in five years. In Mercer County, there are 3,405 registered nurses, according to the initiative.

"We are facing a nurse faculty shortage of crisis proportions in this state," NJNI Program Director Susan Bakewell-Sachs said in a prepared statement.

"Unless we solve it, and put a sufficient number of nurse faculty in place, nursing schools will not be able to educate the nurses we need to meet our state’s future health care needs.

"Many current nurse faculty members are approaching retirement, and there are not enough replacements in the pipeline to fill their positions," added Bakewell-Sachs, dean of the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey.

Kartoz, a nurse with 23 years of experience, has already taught master’s-level students at TCNJ, Rutgers-Camden and Regis College.  However, without a doctorate, Kartoz wasn’t able to obtain a tenure-track position, and without the scholarship, she would not be able to afford her education.

"That’s part of the problem in recruiting and retaining good nursing faculty,” Kartoz said. "It takes immense work, time and money. (This scholarship) provides the opportunity for those of us interested" in
continuing nursing education,” she said, adding that when she teaches, she’s a better clinician, and when she treats patients she becomes a better educator. "The two feed well off each other."

Atkins is earning her doctorate in nursing from Rutgers University in Newark. She plans to focus on how mothers’ mental health issues can influence or affect their childrens’ health outcomes for her doctoral study.

"What I’m doing now will open up a lot of doors of opportunity for me as a researcher, educator and a clinician," said Atkins. She has taught nursing courses at Mercer County Community College and Rutgers and Drexel universities.

A nurse for nearly 13 years, Atkins continues to work part-time as a nurse practitioner at Mercer County Children’s Medical Daycare.