As far as I know, my friend Serena will not be sitting in the balcony above the House chamber during President Obama's highly anticipated jobs speech tonight. At least, she didn't post anything about it on Facebook.
What she did tell me yesterday though was how much she hates her organic chemistry class. See, Serena has decided that it is time to follow her dream of finally becoming a nurse. It was something she had thought about before, during her undergraduate days, but got sidetracked and opted for a career path. She's back at it now though, taking some prereq classes at a community college on the North Side of Chicago. With any luck, she'll be in nursing school soon and then get hired by a local hospital. She'll make a great nurse. And she'll be a heck of a story one day for some politician wanting to show how we can all live the American dream and give back to our communities.
But, and I haven't told Serena this yet, I am worried. I'm worried that she won't be able to get into a nursing program even after she completes her initial course work. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 68,000 qualified applicants in 2010 due to "an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints. Almost two-thirds of the nursing schools responding to the survey pointed to faculty shortages as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants into entry-level baccalaureate programs."
Last year, an AACN survey of 556 nursing schools found that there were 880 faculty openings nationwide. The schools also claimed they needed to create an additional 257 faculty positions to accommodate student demand. Nationally, the nurse faculty vacancy rate stood at 6.9 percent, according to the survey.
Those are scary numbers, especially as health care steamrolls toward a new era of accountability, value, performance and outcomes. We are all keenly aware of the important role nurses play in providing high-quality and safe care for patients. Nurses are the ones on the front line, having the most direct contact with patients and family members. And nursing care undoubtedly will take on greater importance as reimbursement becomes more closely tied to outcomes and the patient experience. But also, we are all keenly aware of the projected nurse shortage, with some estimates putting it as high as 260,000 registered nurses by 2025.
There's no easy solution to the problem, just as there's no easy solution to the projected shortage in primary care physicians or specialists or coders or IT professionals or, well, you get it. Thankfully, there are some programs taking direct aim at the nurse faculty problem. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for instance, on Sept. 1 chose 12 nurse faculty to participate in its Nurse Faculty Scholars program. The nurses each receive a three-year, $350,000 grant to "pursue research, as well as mentoring from senior faculty at his or her institution. … Supporting junior nurse faculty will help curb a shortage of nurse educators that could undermine the health and health care of all Americans."
With any luck, there will be a major trickle-down effect from programs like those at RWJF and Serena will be able to smoothly continue her pursuit of that coveted R.N. degree.