Other Voices

Nursing’s future needs bold education and partnerships

A nursing student works with an interactive patient simulator at the University of Texas at Arlington.
A nursing student works with an interactive patient simulator at the University of Texas at Arlington. STAR-TELEGRAM

It’s a good time to be a registered nurse.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 430,000 additional registered nurse jobs will be created in the next decade.

The Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies estimates that demand for registered nurses in Texas will rise by 86 percent by 2020.

Tens of thousands of people will graduate with nursing degrees this month. About 56 percent of these new graduates will land jobs within six months, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

That figure is twice as high as the job placement rate for all other college graduates combined, the association says.

But our nation continues to face an acute nursing shortage.

There are not enough seats in the nation’s nursing schools, too few faculty members and a shortage of clinical practice sites. According to the National League for Nursing, 41 percent of undergraduate nursing programs don’t have enough practice sites.

The nursing shortage is worsened by other factors, including the aging of the baby boom generation and the graying of a large segment of our 3.1 million registered nurses.

Today there are more people over age 65 than at any time in our nation’s history. The American Nurses Association estimates that 53 percent of registered nurses are over age 50 and that 700,000 of them will retire in the coming decade.

The American Association of Colleges of Nurses reports that the average age of a nursing faculty member is 57.

Nursing schools already face difficulties attracting qualified teachers. This shortage of teachers means fewer spaces for students, which is why 22 percent of applicants were turned away in 2014, according to the National League for Nursing.

To be sure, many nursing schools are working diligently to tackle the shortage. At The University of Texas at Arlington, for example, we have created access for baccalaureate and master’s degree seekers by significantly expanding our online nursing programs while also maintaining our academic standards.

In the last decade, our enrollment has grown exponentially, making us the largest producer of registered nurses in Texas and one of the nation’s five largest nursing programs. About two-thirds of our approximately 20,000 students take classes online.

In addition, we have stepped up our student retention efforts by boosting academic, tutoring and personal counseling support for all students.

We have worked hard to ensure that faculty members focus on teaching and learning by hiring a large number of talented academic support staff members who assist in areas such as our simulation laboratories.

Nursing schools can’t tackle this crisis alone. We must forge stronger partnerships with national health organizations, health care firms, government agencies, school districts and civic groups.

Partnerships with public school districts and civic organizations engaged in wellness activities such as nutrition education and breast cancer awareness could provide more opportunities for clinical sites for nursing students.

Simulation programs are expensive, and partnerships with healthcare firms and other organizations could help nursing schools offset the costs.

Until we boldly reframe our approaches to nursing education, focus faculty on teaching and build partnerships, the steps taken by nursing schools such as UT Arlington will be just that — steps.

Anne R. Bavier is dean of The University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation and president of the National League for Nursing.