By Claire Courchane - The Washington Times
At a time when many Americans are in desperate need of a job, the field of nursing will soon be in desperate need of Americans.
economic downturn of the past few years has temporarily eased the
nation’s shortage of nurses, but university nursing schools say they are
struggling to keep up with what is expected to be soaring demand and
chronic shortfalls in years to come.
Employment services routinely
list nursing as one of the hot hiring professions of the next decade,
but supply never seems to catch up with demand - even as the national
unemployment rate tops 9 percent.
The need for more nurses in the
coming years stems mainly from an aging baby boomer population as well
as a generation of aging nurses who will retire. Although the nursing
shortage of the early 21st century has been helped temporarily by the
economy, many are predicting a shortage in the next several years.
look at it like a double helix. When the economy is up, the nursing
supply goes down. And when the economy tanks, the supply goes back up,”
said Karen Haller,
vice president of nursing at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “What we’re seeing
right now is an aging of the workforce. Many nurses in their 50s are
going to be retiring soon. … There is a silver tsunami of retirements
coming. You can’t delay retirement forever.”
Most labor shortages tend to be self-correcting - workers flock to jobs as wages rise.
The problem, however, is not a lack of Americans who want to be nurses. It’s finding the schools that can teach them.
“There’s definitely a lot of people interested in nursing,” said Robert Rosseter, spokesman for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
number of students who met all the requirements but weren’t admitted
was over 67,000 students last year [in U.S. nursing programs],” he said.
“People do want in, but there just aren’t enough seats.”
The No. 1 reason why qualified students are turned away from nursing programs: a lack of faculty.
the number of applicants to undergraduate nursing programs is climbing,
the number of students accepted remains low. At the University of
Minnesota at Twin Cities, 64 of 324 total applicants were admitted in
2011. The numbers are also low at the University of Washington
at Seattle, which admitted 95 out of 455 total applicants, and the
University of Pittsburgh, which admitted 120 students out of 1,050 total
applicants in 2010. All three schools have highly ranked nursing
Ethan Nowaczyk, a student from UM-Twin Cities, said he feels he was wrongly denied admission into the nursing program last spring.
is the thing I want to do. I want to help people. I feel like I’m
definitely qualified but I wasn’t accepted, and that’s a lot of people’s
problem,” Mr. Nowaczyk
said. “I have good grades. But the school only has so many spots. It’s
just frustrating that they have a shortage, but I want to do this and I
Kristen Swanson, dean of the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
said a lack of funding is to blame. UNC reduced its undergraduate
program by 25 percent this year because of cuts in state funding.
Ms. Swanson said the resulting faculty layoffs meant that the school simply was unable to accept more applicants.
“The bottom line is, it’s not like we could get by with less faculty
teaching the same number of students. We still always have to have [a
certain] ratio in the clinical settings. We can have a large number of
students in the big lectures, but that’s only a portion of nursing
education. And that’s where I have clinical faculty that I’ve had to let
go in order to sustain my budget, and once I let them go I have to
reduce my number of students,” Ms. Swanson said.
“I felt I could decrease the quantity of students, but I would not compromise the quality of our education program,” Ms. Swanson added. UNC-Chapel Hill’s nursing program accepted 258 out of 551 “qualified” applicants in 2011.
Spetz, an associate professor at the University of California at San
Francisco and a specialist in health economics, said she feared that the
lull in the nursing shortage could produce a false sense of security
among policymakers and legislators.
“My worry is that because of
our current economic conditions, the legislature will say, ‘Oh, we’re
done with the shortage and we’re going to pull all this money back out
of nursing programs.’ Then we’ve lost all our progress.”
added, “If we don’t take our eyes off the ball, then the shortage may
not resume with the kind of ferocity that it had before. But if we do
allow the current economic situation to influence our decisions, then
we’re going to be in a position where the shortage will come back really
UNC’s Ms. Swanson
stressed the importance of funding more nurses to go for higher
education and giving nursing school faculty members competitive wages.
She also said raising wages would not be helpful in this situation
because nurses already get paid a “decent amount.”
get paid an amount that reflects the important work they do, and
getting people to want to be nurses is not the problem. Plenty of people
still want to be nurses,” Ms. Swanson said.
Ms. Haller of Johns Hopkins said the shortage will have disastrous effects without more trained nurses.
we don’t have enough nurses, we close beds. There’s less access to
health care for the public. We can’t put a patient in a hospital bed if
we don’t have the nurses to take care of him,” Ms. Haller said. “[That will] not be a good situation for the public to be in.”