The U.S. needs more nurses…now.
Nursing programs all over the U.S. and the facilities that hire trained nurses are feeling the pressure to train and hire those willing to work in the midst of a pandemic (and in the aftermath that will inevitably follow). Even though there has been a slight uptick in school enrollment, there are still not enough nurses to fill the void as others leave the field. Many nurses have chosen to switch careers or retire altogether because of the difficulties they’ve faced, including long hours and patients who are terribly sick – some who don’t make it.
Molly Ricks, a Nashville mother with a master’s degree in early childhood education, decided to enroll last fall in an accelerated nursing program at Marian University at Saint Thomas Health. “I think we all go into nursing because we want to help people, or we wouldn’t go into this profession,” she said. “I think as a mom as well, I’m used to being exhausted.” She said of shortages, “It doesn’t make me scared. It makes me want to go into it more, because there’s such a shortage. It’s a shame that’s what’s happening right now, and I understand why it’s happening — because it’s hard.”
Mark Vogt, the CEO of Galen College of Nursing, which operates multiple locates nationwide said, “We’re trying to find people who, I don’t want to say run into the fire, but we’re trying to find people who understand that you’re really needed.” The for-profit college is now owned by hospital chain HCA. The campus locations are in some of the hardest hit Covid areas in the U.S.
“They’ve been battling this for a while, so they need some fresh hands and some fresh minds to kind of give them some relief,” Vogt said of the profession, in general.
Nursing school enrollment nationwide grew last year by more than 5% and the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act could grant programs up to a billion dollars. However, these are students who will still be in training and it will take time to launch them in the field. The schools also tend to be limited in how many more students they can train at one time. Right now, hospitals have limited resources to train the number of nurses it would take to fill the gap.
“Here we are in a pandemic where nursing schools should be doubling – registered nurses to go to the bedside,” said Dr. Jonathan Mack, who directs the advanced nursing program at the University of San Diego. “But the hospitals, due to the pandemic — and this happened literally overnight — we were notified, ‘Hey, we can’t take any students.’”
“In response to ongoing limitations, the University of San Diego has reduced the size of its newest class,” Mack added. “Current students are making extra-long commutes to get their hours in, up to two hours in one direction. Many students are being asked to run vaccine clinics.”
Dr. Cathy Taylor, dean of the college of nursing at Belmont University agreed, saying, “Our students gave a lot of vaccines. Students also helped with contact tracing, staffed COVID hotlines and have had more practice with infection control than any students before.”
The problem is that most of the shortages are happening in the intensive care units, in the here-and-now, and these could take years to fill.