NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program has reached its $1.4 million goal set earlier this year by Governor Bredesen to fund nursing education in Tennessee. The money was raised through public and private contributions by leading health care organizations across the state.

The inaugural class currently has 62 nurses who will continue their studies with support from the Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program when they enroll at nursing schools across the state in fall 2007. Applications for the program will be accepted until September 1.

The Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program was signed into law in 2006, to counteract a critical nursing faculty shortage in Tennessee. The Tennessee Center for Nursing (TCN) provided research to support the legislation.

The program will pay for up to 100 registered nurses (RNs) to return to school beginning in fall 2007, and will send up to 100 RNs back to school for graduate degrees each subsequent year. Nurses who obtain their graduate degrees through the program are expected to teach undergraduate nursing studies for four years, in exchange for forgiveness of their student loans.

The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation is the largest program supporter, with a contribution of $700,000 to the scholarship fund. Other major corporate donors include Caremark Rx, HCA, Saint Thomas Health Services and Tennessee Hospital Association member hospitals.

“Nurses play a vital role in the delivery of quality health care to all Tennesseans – not only as care providers, but also as mentors and educators,” BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee President and CEO Vicky Gregg, who also served as chairwoman for the fundraising campaign. “They are an essential part of our nation’s health care delivery system. We must find innovative ways to attract nurses to the profession and support their development. As a nurse, I am proud to spearhead efforts to support nurses to continue their education and, in turn, help others who wish to enter the profession to follow their lead.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing is ranked the number-one growth occupation of all professions. Department of Labor projections indicate that more than one million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2012. TCN estimates that 383 nurse faculty positions will be needed in Tennessee by 2010 to supplement current teaching shortages and expected faculty retirements.

“Tennessee hospitals currently have nearly 2,000 vacant nursing positions, and data shows that need will continue to grow,” said Craig A. Becker, Tennessee Hospital Association president. “The shortage requires members of the health care community to think and act differently. The Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program is a new approach to relieving the need for more nurses in our health care system.”

LA 2006 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) revealed that enrollments in four-year baccalaureate nursing (BSN) programs rose by 5 percent over the previous year. However, the same year, more than 32,000 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs due primarily to a shortage of nurse educators, according to AACN.

“The Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program is an outstanding example of how public-private partnerships can improve the quality of health care for all Tennesseans,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “We appreciate Governor Bredesen’s support for this important cause. We hope to see funding increase and the program continue to grow in the future.”

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.