Nurses make up the largest majority of the healthcare profession with nearly 4 million in the U.S. alone. It is estimated that the need for registered nurses (RNs) will skyrocket to 15%, more than double that of other occupations, in the next 8-10 years. While there are many factors contributing to the shortage, are nursing schools themselves part of the problem?

Low Acceptance Rates Due to a Lack of Instructors

Nursing schools across the country are struggling to graduate enough registered nurses to meet the current healthcare demand. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has joined forces with schools, policymakers, and professional nursing organizations to get ahead of this critical need. AACN notes that one major contribution to the nursing shortage is that there are simply not enough nursing instructors, clinical sites, and classroom space for those wishing to enter the profession. For example, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 64,000 applicants in 2016 due to the lack of mostly human resources.

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Income Disparities

While the fact of aging faculty and the pending wave of retirements of doctorally-prepared nurses is a concern, the root of the problem is a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Nurses desiring to attend graduate schools for a master's program or doctorate program are turned away by the thousands each year because there are not enough nursing professors to educate future educators. Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing educators in academic positions earn significantly less ($77k) than clinical or private-sector nurses ($97k) with the same education.

The AACN notes that the U.S. must make multi-pronged attempts to address faculty shortage. For example, by expanding NursingCAS, the nation's centralized application service for RN programs, all vacant master's and doctorate positions are identified and filled. Additionally, states such as Wisconsin are funding fellowships and loan forgiveness programs for nurses who choose faculty pathway careers to incentivize nurses to academia.

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Clinical Preceptorship

The availability of clinical preceptor sites for nursing school is another significant contributor to the nursing education dilemma. Hospital systems that partner with nursing schools find benefit in not only workforce planning, but financially as well, as nurses are frequently offered positions in the hospitals where they train. Also, innovations in clinical preceptorship through simulation lab sites can offer validated supplemental clinical experiences for nursing students.

Finding Solutions to the Nursing Shortage Through Education

Despite nursing education being a contributor to the nursing shortage, nursing education also holds the key to addressing the nursing shortage effectively. By implementing innovative approaches and reforms, nursing schools can better prepare future nurses and mitigate the factors contributing to the shortage:

  • Expansion of Educational Capacity: Increasing the capacity of nursing programs through funding initiatives, faculty development, and partnerships with healthcare institutions can help accommodate a larger number of students and alleviate bottlenecks in the education pipeline.

  • Enhanced Support Systems: Providing comprehensive support services, such as academic advising, tutoring, and mental health counseling, can help students overcome challenges and persist in their nursing education. Mentorship programs and peer support networks can also foster a sense of community and belonging among nursing students.

  • Modernizing Curricula: Nursing education curricula should be updated to reflect the latest evidence-based practices, technology advancements, and healthcare trends. Integration of simulation-based learning, interprofessional education, and cultural competency training can better prepare nurses to meet the diverse needs of patients and communities.

  • Financial Aid and Scholarships: Increasing access to financial aid, scholarships, and tuition reimbursement programs can make nursing education more affordable and accessible to a broader range of individuals. Targeted initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining students from underrepresented backgrounds can help diversify the nursing workforce and address disparities in healthcare.

  • Promotion of Lifelong Learning: Encouraging a culture of lifelong learning and professional development among nurses is essential for ensuring ongoing competency and adaptability in the face of evolving healthcare challenges. Continuing education opportunities, certification programs, and mentorship initiatives can support nurses in advancing their knowledge and skills throughout their careers.