The number of nurses graduating school with a bachelor’s degree rose 34% over the past three years in Massachusetts. The state, education systems, and healthcare institutions have been able to align on the needs of a growing patient population, and now they are seeing critical gains in the number of qualified nurses for open positions. For the most part, the efforts around the country to boost nursing education have been disjointed and isolated. The fact that 79,659 qualified students were turned away from nursing programs in 2012 is a testament to the gaps in the system. With limited nationwide action to address a growing shortage of nurses (and a nurse population set to begin aging out soon), it is time for states, educational institutions, and smaller groups to take heed from Massachusetts and start taking action to lead the way.
Earlier this year we talked about the stats of the nursing shortage and the impacts on hospital care, but this post is a closer look at education as systemic cause and limiting factor on nursing in the US.
It’s a nationwide issue and known fact that the supply of qualified nurses does not meet the current and future demand within healthcare. Diving just one level deeper, we can begin to attribute a sizable part of this to the lack of resources available at nursing educational institutions. This is becoming a huge limiting factor for nursing at a nationwide level. The faculty required to educate the next generation of nurses is just not present. There are not enough faculty and beyond that, there are not enough facilities or other physical resources required to put more nurses into the education system.
The Robert Johnson Wood Foundation had vision into the nursing education issue in 2010 when they issued a report detailing the need to raise the number of BSNs and nurses with advanced degrees. The report called for the percent of BSNs to rise to 80% of the nursing population and the number of advanced degreed nurses to double. Currently, those numbers sit at 55% and 1% respectively.
Expanding on this specific study we can see that the incredibly low percentage of nurses with advanced degrees and doctorates is a bottleneck on the production of qualified personnel required to educate BSNs since nursing faculty numbers are directly linked to advanced nursing degrees being earned. This bottleneck hurts as BSNs are particularly important to the system as many long-standing members of the hospital workforce age out into retirement and leave a growing pool of vacancies nationwide.
What schools have been able to achieve in Massachusetts is encouraging news to the rest of the country that change is possible. Institutions turned out 2,580 BSNs in 2013 in Massachusetts. This number is comparatively small, but if their model and activities can be replicated nationwide then the problem begins to seem manageable.
Some of the specific activities they have implemented and seen results with are tuition reimbursement by hospitals, credit transfers for associate degree nurses to become BSNs, hybrid online educational content, and additional partnerships between hospitals and education institutions to incentivize and enable students to pursue nursing.
The bottom line is that institutions and involved parties are getting creative around the solutions to this problem. It is unrealistic to expect a nationwide solution in the near future, so it is increasingly becoming the job of states, schools, and hospitals to step up on a smaller scale and contribute to the solution! Massachusetts and others are leading the way and setting a good example of what can be done locally to start addressing issues that seem too large to tackle at the national level.