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The Catch-22 Nurse Shortage: Nursing Program Enrollment Is Up, and the Nursing Job Market Is Good — So Why Aren't There Enough Nurses?

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News of a nurse shortage has been looming over the nursing industry for a while now, but with such a strong job outlook and high nursing program enrollment rates, why aren't there enough nurses to fill these jobs? The problem lies within the nursing school system: there simply are not enough nurses to teach and train new ones. In addition to this catch-22, graduation rates are slipping, and nursing students are not completing nursing programs as often as they used to.

Last year I heard many people in the nursing industry saying there was a nurse shortage in the United States. “Hmm…” I said to myself. “Maybe I should switch gears and become a nurse.”

Who wouldn’t want to? Nurses can work three days a week and still make almost a six-figure salary.

According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, there is an excellent job outlook for nursing. Nursing job growth is expected to climb 23% within the next eight years, providing about 587,000 new job openings.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why there were so many nursing job openings and not enough nurses to fill them.

It’s not that people are straying away from nursing. It’s actually quite the opposite. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported a 4.98% jump in enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs from 2006 to 2007.

Even though 2007 was the nursing industry’s seventh consecutive year of nursing program enrollment growth, the AACN estimates that some 40,000 nursing applicants were turned away because there were not enough nursing instructors to train them.

Bingo. The root of the nursing shortage lies within the lack of nursing educators.

According to the Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions released by the AACN last summer, 767 nursing faculty vacancies were identified at 344 nursing schools with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs across the US.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) determined that the current nursing shortage is a result of a few factors:
  • A growing and aging US population
  • Demand for high-quality care
  • An RN workforce at or approaching retirement (specifically the Baby Boomers)
  • Difficulties attracting new nurses and retaining the existing workforce
If these factors continue to exist and worsen, so will the current nursing shortage.

In addition, baccalaureate nursing program graduation rates are falling, raising even more concern about the nursing shortage.

With the HRSA projecting a need for 2,824,900 nurses by 2020 — an increase of more than 1 million nurses in the next 12 years — nursing programs should have a 90% graduation rate. However, baccalaureate nursing program graduation rates only experienced a 7.4% increase last year.

So why aren’t nursing students getting through school and moving on with their nursing careers? I decided to ask a few nursing hopefuls what their opinions were about nursing education in today’s nursing market. It seems that becoming a nurse is not so simple anymore.

Emily Holtzclaw, a wife and mother who recently made the decision to get her RN degree, says the nursing program she is looking into requires quite a time commitment.

“It’s a really intense program,” she says.

Holtzclaw is planning to enroll in the associate’s degree RN program at Mount San Antonio College (Mount SAC) in Walnut, California.

“The class schedules are full-time in addition to required labs. The two-year program is four to five days per week from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says Holtzclaw.

With classes impacted because of the nursing instructor shortage, necessary courses can be very difficult to get into.

“You also have prerequisite classes that must be completed with a high letter grade, which don’t even guarantee you a spot,” she adds.

Once nursing students pass prerequisites like Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, Microbiology, and Basic Writing, they are placed into a lottery, which only accepts a small percentage of applicants per school term at Mount SAC. This is also the case at other surrounding colleges and universities.

Then there are other nursing programs that will immediately accept applicants who are willing to pay a heftier price for the education. Although these types of programs can be more accelerated and convenient, they don’t always deliver results.

Bryan Jordan, an LVN nursing student from Summit Career College who graduated last summer, says that he felt unprepared when he took his license exam soon after graduation.

“There was so much material to cover in such a short amount of time in my nursing program. I would study very hard, pass the test, and then move on to the next section I was going to be tested on the following week,” he says. “I was constantly thinking, ‘Am I going to remember this material after next week?’”

Unfortunately, Jordan failed to pass his license exam the first time, but he thinks that a majority of other nursing hopefuls are running into the same problem.

“You really have to be dedicated to it. I was working full-time and trying to study at night — it takes a lot of time and commitment to stay current on all the material,” Jordan says.
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 job market  colleges and universities  Association of Colleges  nursing shortages  United States  salary  shortages  Colleges of Nursing  job openings  employers

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