Jan. 18, 2002
Volume XXXV, No. 3

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Shortage of clinical nurses, educators is reaching crisis proportions

By Dr. Janet D. Allan, dean of the School of Nursing

The San Antonio Express-News recently ran a thoughtful editorial on the shortage of nurses statewide. This shortage is not a nursing problem — it is a community problem. The demand for nurses is soaring, but the supply of nurses and nursing school faculty is dwindling.

Causes
What is causing this? Experts point to heightened productivity requirements in our hospitals, the loss of nursing positions over the last decade during the downsizing of hospitals, the aging of the nursing workforce (in both practice and education), increasing use of technology necessitating greater levels of training, and the 30 percent decline in nursing enrollments over the last five years. The decline in nursing enrollments has been attributed to public perception of the difficulty of clinical nursing positions and to the growth of other opportunities for women, who still constitute the majority of nurses.

Texas, like the rest of the country, is facing a shortage of registered nurses, with hospital RN and skilled nursing faculty vacancy rates exceeding 10 percent. This shortage is even more acute in rural areas. Texas is short 40,000 nurses and the demand will continue to grow. The average age of an RN working in a clinical setting is 44 and the average age of a nurse educator is 55. It is estimated that 40 percent of professionals in both groups will retire by 2010.

Education
By 2007, Texas needs to double the number of graduates from nursing programs that prepare students for initial RN licensure. Those programs include associate degree programs, baccalaureate programs and diploma or hospital programs. Part of the problem is that at a time when schools of nursing need to increase enrollments, programs are turning away qualified applicants primarily because of the lack of budgeted faculty positions. In Texas in 1999, more than 3,000 qualified applicants were not admitted to nursing programs because of lack of faculty and clinical mentors. One difficulty in attracting nurses into faculty careers is the low salary scale.

Solutions
What is being done to address the shortage? In the last regular session, state legislators enacted the Nursing Shortage Reduction Act. This legislation will provide nursing programs with additional resources to enroll more students and to assure the recruitment and retention of faculty and students. The act also will provide more flexibility and use of funds for financial aid to students. In San Antonio, five nursing programs are collaborating with the Greater San Antonio Hospital Council to develop a nursing shortage initiative that would create partnerships between educational institutions and hospitals. Nursing schools in San Antonio are exploring innovative ways to develop more faculty. For example, the UTHSC School of Nursing has developed a nursing scholars program to attract baccalaureate and master's students to academic careers.

Scholarships
Students entering the UTHSC School of Nursing are invited to ask about scholarship opportunities. We aggressively recruit minority students and students from rural areas of South Texas. I encourage interested individuals to call the School of Nursing at ext. 7-5800 and ask about making a scholarship donation. The Health Science Center receives less than half of its operating budget from the state.

I write this op-ed piece to alert the community to the growing nursing shortage.

This is a community issue and will require involvement of the community in the solution.

[Editor's note: This article, reprinted here, first appeared in the Express-News.]

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