For the past several years, sources like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing have noted an increasing shortage in nurses in the United States. According to the AACN’s website, “the U.S. is projected to experience a shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) that is expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for health care grows.”
Any UNF nursing student knows how difficult it is to be admitted into the nursing program. UNF’s nursing program receives several hundred applications each semester, but there are only 40 slots available. While it is obviously important for nursing programs to have high standards, many would say that to combat the nursing shortage, schools should have less competitive nursing programs with more slots available.
The issue is that the nursing shortage also extends to nurse educators. In an AACN report on “2012-2013 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing”, around two-thirds of nursing schools surveyed cited insufficient number of educators as the main reason for turning away qualified applicants. The same study showed that U.S. nursing schools turned away almost 80,000 qualified applicants due to their inability to accomadate more students.
Jacksonville, however, has the advantage of being home to several accredited nursing schools, such as Jacksonville University’s and Florida State College of Jacksonville’s, in addition to UNF’s.
“Here in the Jacksonville area, we have a steady flow of brand new nurses coming out of school,” said Sandy Dupont, a critical care coordinator at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside.
Jacksonville’s main issue is the inability of many hospitals to keep experienced nurses working on the floor. After several years working in a fast-paced environment with up to several twelve-hour shifts per week, many nurses become burned out and seek more stable jobs
Jody Strauch, a clinical documentations specialist at St. Vincent’s Southside who used to work as a nurse in the hospital’s emergency room, said she eventually took an office job because it worked better with her lifestyle.
“Since nurse schedules are usually 12-hour shifts working three days a week, I wanted more normal hours that are more common with the general population, and easier to raise children,” Strauch said. “Also, I wanted weekends and holidays off, which you can’t be guaranteed to have in regular nursing.”
In addition, many experienced nurses chose to move to more widely desired areas of nursing, such as labor and delivery. This leaves a shortage of experienced nurses in other areas, such as the E.R. and I.C.U..
“You need to have a good mix out on the unit,” said Tina Debile, a clinical documentation specialist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. “New nurses need an experienced nurse to mentor them.”
Although nurse education jobs also have more stable hours, the shortage in nurse educators is primarily due to the low salary.
“The salary’s not necessarily what you could make at the hospital,” said Elizabeth Pope, a clinical documentations specialist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside and nurse educator. “So I think that deters a lot of nurses from going into the educational area.”
While residency programs that offer in-hospital training to new nurses can help better prepare them for the workplace, Debile, Pope and Dupont all agree that actual workplace is experience is by far the best way to improve.
In order to have enough nurse educators to accomodate the dire need for nurses across the country, Pope believes that ultimately the salaries will have to be raised.