Bring on the nursing faculty

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The nursing profession needs teachers. That became increasingly evident this week with public announcements about two new studies.

First, from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs experienced a measly 2% increase from 2007 to 2008. Growth in master’s nursing programs decreased, and the number of students entering research-focused doctorates appears, at least initially, to be flat, the study found.

"This year's enrollment increases are welcome, but largely insufficient to meet the projected demand for nursing clinicians, educators, and researchers into the foreseeable future," AACN President Fay Raines noted in a release.

It would be easy to blame the shortage of students on a lack of interest in the nursing profession. But that apparently is not the case. According to the AACN study, schools are actually receiving more qualified applicants than can be accommodated. A total of 27,771 qualified applicants were turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs based on responses from 406 institutions, preliminary data showed, the study said.

The main barriers to accepting all qualified students are insufficient faculty, clinical placement sites, classroom space—and budget cuts, the study said.

Meanwhile, the lack of nurse educators compounds a shortage that only seems to be worsening, as the American Health Care Association pointed out this week. Its 2007 Nursing Position Vacancy and Turnover Study found that 1 in 6 registered nurse positions in long-term care facilities went vacant in 2007. That is nearly 6,000 more vacant positions than in 2002. Also, nearly 110,000 full-time equivalent healthcare personnel were needed to fill vacant nursing positions in long-term care facilities nationwide.

“Funding and expanding training programs to ensure a large, well-trained labor pool are essential to growing our workforce,” said Bruce Yarwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association.

Both AHCA and AACN are looking to Congress for funding to boost nurse education programs and professional development, and to induce reforms allowing states to hire, train and retain direct care workers.

We’ve known about the nursing shortage for years. So enough talk. It’s time for Congress and the nursing profession to get to work.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.