Some industries are rebounding from the recession better than others. In April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the healthcare industry recorded the biggest increase of any employment sector, adding 37 000 jobs in March 2011. Positions mostly filled by nurses, the largest segment of the healthcare workforce. And yet, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is still predicting a huge nursing shortage to hit the country in less than ten years.
In job-starved America, what is stopping us from graduating enough nurses to meet the demand?
- Nursing school enrollment is not increasing quickly enough. Though enrollment increased from 2.2 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the Council on Physician and Nurse Supply, 30 000 more nurses need to graduate annually— an expansion of 30 percent.
- Schools are turning away qualified applicants. Because enrollment hasn’t expanded, the AACN reported that 67 563 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs in 2010. In the survey, the AACN also found that faculty shortages were the number on reason for not accepting qualified applicants at two-thirds of (responding) nursing schools. Read about one aspiring nurse’s experience here.
- There are not enough high-level nurses to fill faculty positions. Matthew McHugh, assistant professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that this is where the real bottleneck lies. He said in a phone interview that 65 percent of nurses graduate from an associates degree program, and only 20 percent of those nurses go on to get a bachelors degree, leaving only a small pool of nurses in a position to seek the advanced degrees required to teach. “Addressing the nursing shortage means opening up the pipeline to move students to the potential to be in a teaching role,” he said.
- Pay discrepancy discourages advanced-practice nurses from becoming educators. Judy Beal, chief academic officer for nursing and health sciences at Simmons College in Boston, estimates that a new nurse with a PhD can make two to three times more money working in a clinical setting than he or she can in a teaching job. “We as the profession are going to have to at some point bite the bullet and say ‘we’ve got to pay our faculty more,'” she said.
- Current nurse educators are aging— and retiring. Beal, 59, estimates that she is the mean age for nursing faculty and that 40 percent of the nurse educators at Simmons plan to retire in the next five to ten years, herself included.