As the baby boomer generation enters retirement and the Affordable Care Act aims to increase the number of insured Americans, nurses are needed more than ever. While many students want to be nurses, thousands get turned away each year because of a shortage of nurse educators.
According to a report released this year by the New England Journal of Medicine, the problem still persists – with tens of thousands of potential nursing students being turned away from colleges who simply can’t make their programs any bigger.
“If you don’t have sufficient funds, you can not accept and therefore teach as many nursing students, and we’re not graduating the same number of nursing students,” Vida Lock, dean of the School of Nursing at Cleveland State University, said.
The university recently made changes to their program to enable more nurse educators to graduate from their school.
Nursing instructors are important for giving student real-world experience inside hospitals, where only a handful of students get clinical experience. Because of this, educating more nursing students goes beyond expanding classroom size, Lock said.
But it’s not only the growing need for nurses responsible for the great demand. As health care becomes more complex, becoming a nurse requires more education and skills than in the past. Where an associate degree was once enough for a nurse, now a baccalaureate is necessary, Lock said.
“You can’t just be a nurse because you have a kind, caring spirit,” Lock said. “You have to be outdoing in science and math and all those other background skills.”
Last year, the Institute of Medicine released a report that set goals for increasing the number of nursing educators and subsequently students. The report called for 80 percent of nursing students with a baccalaureate degree as opposed to the current 50 percent, and doubling the number of nurses with a doctoral degree, a prerequisite for becoming a nurse educator.
The deadlines are important. Lock said the average age of faculty members at the school was 58.
“We have to make sure we have people prepared to take the work,” she said.
Lock’s situation is not unique. Half of nursing school faculty members in America will reach a retirement age in the next 10 years, according to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
With the supply growing and demand decreasing, the government has given extra help to programs serving nurse educators, said Rebecca Spitzgo, Associate Administrator for the Bureau of Clinician Recruitment and Service, which oversees the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program, Health Resources and Services Administration’s scholarship and loan repayment programs. The two programs focus on providing nursing students with the financial means to pay for their education through individual awards.
“I think if you would talk to associations, they would tell you the need is still great,” Spitzgo said.
In 2010, the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program and the Nursing Scholarship Loan and Repayment Program’s appropriation from the government doubled.
Spitzgo said while groups attempt to help end the shortage, one hopefully area is the high number of student who show interest in becoming nurses and nurse educators – enrollment for nursing students has increased four percent in the last two years, and is still turning thousands of students away.
“There’s definitely interest,” Spitzgo said.
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