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USF receives grant to train AIDS researchers

AIDS researchers aren't born, they're made. Soon, many more of them will be produced by the University of South Florida (USF) under a $1.6-million five-year training grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Only one other school, the University of Minnesota, was so honored.

The USF grant was given to the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, which will cooperate with the Department of Psychiatry, the Tampa Bay Research Institute and Dr. Robert Good's immune-system lab at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

"This is a challenge to us to train young people who can go farther than we have done _ people who can exceed their teachers," Good said. "It's so exciting!"

The leader of the project is Dr. Herman Friedman, chairman of the USF microbiology department. He could not be reached Monday, but information from USF describes him as the editor or co-editor of more than 40 books and a member of the Basic Science AIDS Committee of the National Institutes of Health.

According to USF, the award will provide stipends to nine graduate students the first year and an additional nine in each succeeding year. They will study how various drugs affect the immune system and whether they make the body more or less vulnerable to disease.

Studies have hinted that people infected with the AIDS virus get sicker quicker if they take drugs. But it's not yet possible to make a flat statement that the drugs are responsible, because it could be that drug addicts have some other common characteristic _ poor nutrition, perhaps _ that governs how quickly they succumb.

Dr. Thomas Klein, vice chairman of microbiology at USF, said that the department's research is part of the emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology, the study of how the body's disease-fighting system is affected by mood messages from the brain.

While there's no firm scientific basis for linking the two, he said, "everyone has the feeling that if they are depressed about something, they tend to have more infectious diseases."

The reverse may also be true, he said, that elation may elevate the immune system.

Even though the grant comes from a federal government that is combating the use of opiates, cocaine and marijuana, Klein said, there will be no pressure on the USF scientists to find that drug use is uniformly destructive.

"The point is to try to understand what is the effect," he said, "be it positive or negative."

Campaign focuses on nurse shortage

Nothing much fazes nurse Colleen McMurphy, not bugs, not blood, not grenades. She's a mix of Rambo and Florence Nightingale.

McMurphy, the main character in ABC-TV's China Beach, is so beloved by nurses across America that they flooded the network with letters to keep the Vietnam drama on the air this fall. Now the Emmy winner who plays McMurphy, Dana Delany, is the focus of a national recruiting campaign for nurses that will be launched Nov. 13.

It's going to take a larger-than-life figure like McMurphy to woo more young people into nursing, a profession that suffers from flat salaries, jarring stress and little autonomy. Unless more people decide to go into nursing, the day may come when there simply won't be anyone to take care of the sick and dying.

The nursing shortage in Florida is awful and is going to get even worse, says a new study by Florida's Health Care Cost Containment Board that was discussed last week at an Orlando seminar.

The demand for nurses has grown, but fewer people are choosing the profession, the study says. Those who do choose it too often leave it in sorrow and disgust.

Here are some of the findings:

Florida is not educating enough nurses. Of the 9,000 registered nurses (RNs) who receive Florida licenses each year, 61 percent were trained in another state. Enrollments in Florida nursing schools dropped 34 percent in the mid-'80s.

Many of those who attend Florida nursing schools leave without the knowledge they need to pass the state licensure exam. The failure rate last year was 17 percent.

Pay for all levels of nursing is best at home health agencies, followed by hospitals, nursing homes and county health units.

Twenty percent of nurses' time is spent on work that others could do.

Vacancy and turnover rates are highest in for-profit hospitals and lowest in publicly owned hospitals.

Turnover is almost constant in nursing homes, ranging from 74 percent a year for RNs to 114 percent for nursing assistants.

In public health, which serves the poor and uninsured, one in three jobs is vacant.

"The shortage of public health nurses was critical in 1989 and has worsened in 1990," said Katherine Mason, director of nursing at the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) headquarters.

"Its effects have been direct, dramatic and devastating," she said. "Access to care has been compromised."

There is no mystery about why. Public health nurses make $6,000 a year less than home health nurses and $4,200 a year less than hospital nurses, Mason said. But as poorly paid as they are, she said, public health nurses still earn $1 an hour more than nursing home nurses, who tend to have lousy benefits as well.

So it's not surprising that nursing homes have the hardest time attracting and keeping nurses, said Marie Cowart, director of the Institute on Aging at Florida State University and co-author of the nursing study.

"You get a cuter uniform at Disney or Holiday Inn than you do at a nursing home," she said, "and the work is cleaner and more pleasant."