[Read about Harvard's long run as the nation's top medical school.]
Because nurses will play a crucial role in filling the care gap, universities that offer advanced practice credentials are similarly looking to expand their student bodies. Enrollment in master's degree nurse practitioner programs leaped to more than 38,000 in 2010, from 21,000 in 2004, reports the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. New York University College of Nursing and the University of Alabama—Birmingham School of Nursing have about doubled their NP enrollment in the past few years, for example.
And some 120 schools of nursing, including those at Stony Brook University in New York and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, now offer doctoral degrees in nursing practice, up from just 20 in 2006; an additional 161 programs are in the planning stages. Unlike the more research-oriented nursing Ph.D., the D.N.P. degree prepares graduates to provide highly skilled primary care and to work in healthcare administration.
Doctors and nurses alike who are willing to go where they're most needed can often get a big hand from the government in paying back their loans. Uncle Sam's National Health Service Corps offers up to $60,000 for two years of service in approved areas such as rural or public health clinics and prisons; people willing to stay on for six or more years can conceivably see their total debt retired.
Many states, too, help repay or forgive part of the debt of primary care practitioners; doctors who practice in underserved areas in Massachusetts and Virginia, for example, can shave up to $50,000 off their loan balance in exchange for a two-year stint.
Plenty of medical students and aspiring nurses still arrive at school "with a calling to heal the world," UConn's Gould observes. And these days, it's much more likely than in the recent past that the early spark—the impulse to serve all sorts of patients and all sorts of needs—will be fanned to life.
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