A Critical Need

A Critical Need

The new generation of health care

Nursing the future: Ursuline medical students

Nursing the future: Ursuline medical students

Looking for a field of study that readily guarantees a job after graduation, plenty of room for growth and the opportunity to change or perhaps save someone’s life? Then you might want to consider a profession indebted to the infamous Florence Nightingale who laid the foundation for the respected and vital career of nursing. 

According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio’s (HPIO) November 2009 report, “The Future of the Working Nurse Force in Ohio,” it is projected that there will be a severe nursing shortage over the next two decades. Deficit estimates range from between 300,000 to more than a million by 2020-2025, and experts say that just 300,000 is almost three times greater than any nursing shortage the United States has experienced in more than 50 years. Ohio is one of three states, including California and Texas, with the largest claim for nurses and nursing students, with an anticipated shortage of 32,000, or 29 percent, by 2020.

While numerous reports have indicated that the shortfall of nurses has stabilized, experts caution that this is temporary. At present, the economy is forcing retired nurses to re-enter the workforce, nurses approaching retirement to continue working and others to work extra shifts, but this will not last. With more than 2.4 million registered nurses (RNs) representing the largest segment of the health-care workforce in the United States, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, national projections indicate that the demand for trained nurses will far outweigh the supply.

“The demand comes with a greater number of aging baby boomers approaching retirement than those coming into nursing,” says Dr. Christine Wynd, dean of the Breen School of Nursing at Ursuline College. “The Cleveland area also has a hard-driving health-care industry, and there is a large demand to fill all those positions with the growth of health care in Cleveland. It’s a good time to become a nurse in Cleveland because you are very much wanted.” 

Wynd says schools in northeast Ohio are producing nurses as quickly as they can, but they are falling short of the demand. “Part of that is due to the shortage of nursing faculty and limited classroom and clinical space.” Ursuline’s nursing program, fortunate not to be experiencing a faculty shortage, currently consists of approximately 400 Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students, more than 100 master’s degree students, and 60 students in a 15-month accelerated/second-degree program. 

The nursing shortage affects all of us because the safety and quality of patient care can have a direct impact on you or your loved one. “I think it is a frightening future for patients if we don’t have enough well educated nurses,” says Wynd. “In hospital settings, the profile of patients has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. If they go in for an emergency, they are rescued far more now than years ago, because they have highly skilled, knowledgeable nurses to get them through recovery.” 

Today’s nursing industry is pushing for nurses with bachelor's degrees. “The whole science of nursing is growing rapidly,” says Dr. Laura Dzurec, dean of Kent State University College of Nursing, one of the largest nursing schools in the United States. “The better prepared the nurse, the better outcome for patients.” Dzurec says KSU is close to 1,500 undergraduate students working towards their BSN, more than 300 master’s degree students, about 28 active doctoral students working through a joint venture with the University of Akron, and about 150 accelerated program students.

The shortage is seriously being approached and incentives are being developed for teachers and students to enter and remain in the field. KSU continues to offer new programs to accommodate a wide range of individuals, explains Dzurec. “We just started a new evening and weekend program,” she says. “We also offer an online program for RNs to earn their BSN and master's-prepared students to learn advanced nursing practices.” Dzurec adds that there are also plenty of scholarship and tuition reimbursement programs. “Laws and rules are being made state-by-state to increase opportunities for nurses,” she says.

According to HPIO, last year the US Congress passed the Nurse Reinvestment Act of 2009, enacted as part of Title VIII in response to the nursing shortage. This provides new scholarships for nursing students and offers grants to nursing schools for faculty loan cancellation programs in which advanced degree students can receive loans that will be partially forgiven if they become nurse faculty members. In President Obama’s proposed 2010 budget, $263.4 million would be allocated for these two Title VIII programs, which is funded at $171 million at present. 

With nationwide attention being given to this crisis, there has been a steady increase in nursing school enrollments, as well as added or expanded college programs, explains Hiram College nursing director Dr. Davina Gosnell. With a new nursing program in place at Hiram, the nursing director says: “We’re not a large program but we fulfill a significant role in terms of producing nurses at the baccalaureate level with approximately 40 students per year. Our first group of students will graduate in 2011.” 

Gosnell says positive initiatives have been created to sustain a strong nursing workforce in this region such as the Northeast Ohio Nursing Initiative (NEONI) formed through the Center for Health Affairs. This collaboration of hospitals, schools of nursing, nursing associations and others have a mission to address and seek remedies to increase the number of nurses. “There are multiple reasons for this shortage,” she says, “and it will take multiple solutions to resolve this issue.”

While there are many wonderful reasons to become a nurse, Gosnell says a student must keep in mind that a career should be chosen for the right reasons. “Without question, a career in health is going to be far more viable than other areas of the employment sector, but we don’t want students selecting nursing solely because that is where they think the job market is going to be. It has to be right for you.”

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