Local college nursing programs are expanding more every semester because of a strong job market, according to nursing program directors.
Shawna McGill, nursing program director at Clovis Community College, said the CCC associate degree nursing program has been increasing steadily since last year.
She said there were 42 nursing graduates in 2010 and 49 in 2011. She said so far in 2012, there have been 23 graduates from the program.
"That's largely due to us offering a new program called inclusive nursing," McGill said. "(But) there's job security; it has stable pay; there's availability of jobs."
McGill said the inclusive program entails students being able to enter the nursing program while working on their prerequisites.
Eastern New Mexico University nursing program director Leslie Paternoster agreed that local nursing programs are definitely growing.
Paternoster said the main reason for the growth in the ENMU bachelor degree program is the fact that it is offered online.
She said there were 40 students in the program when she became director in 2007. There are currently 230 students.
"I think we're going to grow even more," Paternoster said. "I think people are hearing that coming out of an associate degree (program), nurses can make $55,000 a year and have health benefits and put into a retirement plan."
Paternoster said nurses have the potential to make $75,000 to $90,000 a year after achieving a master's degree, depending on the nursing field they choose to work in.
As of this fall, ENMU will be offering a master of science degree with an emphasis in nursing education, according to Paternoster.
"We wanted to focus on education because a lot of us in the nursing profession are older and getting close to retirement age, so we need younger people to step up and take over," Paternoster said of the new degree.
Roosevelt General Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Maxine Montano said the same situation applies to the non-educational side of nursing.
She said most people in the nursing field are of the "baby boomer" generation and are approaching their 50s and 60s.
Montano said the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence issued a paper last year, saying amost half of the nursing community are over 50 years old.
She said it is expected that many current nurses will be retiring from the field within two to three years.
"All we can do is work as fast as we can to build nurses per capita and make them better educated," Montano said. "We have to build that educational support that builds that practitioner education. This is one of the few states that allows them (nurses) to practice at the height of their education (master's level)."
All three women agreed although the benefits and pay are a large part of the appeal for nursing students, the field is not for everyone.
"Nursing school is very challenging and takes a lot of hard work and dedication," McGill said. "Someone might have thought they wanted to be a nurse and they don't truly realize the hard work and dedication it takes. I don't think everyone can do it and I think some realize that when they get in there."