Any who doubt Baltimore’s students and their potential for success in the demanding health care fields should have a conversation with Dr. Marcella Copes, dean of Nursing at Coppin State University.

My colleagues on the Morgan State University Board of Regents will forgive me, I trust, for my long-standing support for nursing education at Coppin. I am doing all that I can to help Dr. Copes and her colleagues for a very simple reason: they are getting the job done.

Guided by a gifted and very supportive faculty, young nurses-in-training from local neighborhoods are succeeding academically at Coppin State ? often against the odds ? while they also contribute to the well-being of our community.

Maryland is very fortunate to have a number of excellent nursing schools, all providing this nation with highly qualified registered nurses at a time when we face a significant shortage in the field. Yet, even in this worthy academic company, Coppin State’s nurses stand out.

Nursing graduates from throughout the country all take the same national licensing examination to become registered nurses. This year, Coppin State’s nursing students achieved the highest RN passing rate of any school in our state.

Coppin State’s students are succeeding because of their abilities, their determination and the faculty support they receive. Their path to professional excellence is assisted by the state-of-the-art computer simulated hospital training that I was privileged to help them obtain.

Here in Baltimore, we all are better off as a result.

Coppin State’s Community Nursing Clinic serves patients from both the university and the surrounding community. Students at St. Frances Academy, senior citizens receiving Wayland Baptist Church’s health care outreach service and children at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital all benefit from Coppin State nursing.

These are accomplishments that haven’t received much public acclaim—but they should.

No healthcare professional has a more profound impact upon our survival than the qualified nurse who cares for us when we are injured or sick. It stands to reason, therefore, that we all have a personal interest in the availability of high-quality nursing education and the registered nurses these educators train.

Nevertheless, some in the Congress are considering cuts to federal support for nursing education.

I disagree.

We in the Congress need to expand this critical federal funding for nursing education when we consider appropriations for Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs within our Public Health Services Act.

Cutting federal support for our nurses would be a false economy. Cuts in funding would make the current nursing shortage worse – a failure that many Americans would not survive.

Locally, the national shortage of qualified nurses is already a serious concern. We now are experiencing both a shortage of trained nurses and unreasonably long hours for the nurses who still are working in Baltimore’s healthcare facilities.

We can rest assured that all of these professional nurses will continue to do their best. Still, common sense tells us that a shortage of qualified nurses must have an adverse impact on patients’ care.

Giving our sick or injured less than the best care that we can is unacceptable in a nation with the most expensive health care system in the world. Unless we substantially increase our support for nursing education now, health experts project that we will face a national one-million-nurse shortfall within a decade.

That would be a nursing crisis in which we would lack fully one-third of the qualified nurses we need and Americans would die before their time as a result.
We must do better.

Even today, Coppin State’s excellent nursing program attracts more qualified applicants than the 125 students that the school can accept at any one time.

The same holds true for our other local nursing schools and those around the country. In 2009, U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 55,000 applicants from undergraduate and graduate nursing programs due to insufficient capacity.

Why are so many highly qualified applicants being turned away? A substantial reason appears to be a shortfall in the level of state and federal funding needed to provide world-classes nurses with the salaries that they need to support their families while they teach.

Increased support for nursing education is not a luxury. When our health and survival is at stake, caring for the nurses who care for us is a necessity.

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.