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We must overcome nursing shortage

DEAR EDITOR:

Nurses play a critical role in our health care system today. They are often the first health care professional that patients meet and they are with patients throughout the continuum of care.

Many scientific studies note connections between adequate levels of registered nurse staffing and safe patient care. The duties of an RN are wide-ranging and require skill, knowledge, compassion and expertise. This occupation has existed for centuries. However, it is projected that the U.S. will face a nursing shortage within the next decade. Employment opportunities for nurses are projected to grow at a rate of 15 percent — faster than all other occupations 2016 through 2026.

Various causes relate to the continuing shortage of nurses. Some include shortage of nursing educators, growing aging population and high nurse retirement rates. The shortage of educators and faculty in nursing schools has played a large role in restricting students acceptance rates. According to AACN’s report on 2018 to 2019 enrollment and graduations in nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 75,000 qualified applicants in nursing programs in 2018 due to insufficient faculty, clinical sites, classroom space and budget constraints, denying acceptance to many qualified applicants and drastically reducing the amount of available new graduate nurses.

Another major indicator of the nursing shortage is the aging population, more specifically “baby boomers.” As a result, the need for geriatric nursing care is growing.

Equally as important is the retirement of many experienced registered nurses. Retirements of experienced and knowledgeable nurses leads to a significant decline in the amount of individuals capable of training and orienting new nurses in the future.

A nationwide nursing shortage ultimately heightens the nurse-to-patient ratio, creating an unsafe work environment for nurses and patients alike. Short-staffing also could contribute to nursing burnout, which is a leading reason nurses tend to leave the profession. All of these factors can cause unmanageable stress and increase the probability of nursing error. This ultimately decreases the quality of patient care nurses provide to patients.

In order to combat the inevitable shortage of registered nurses, health care employers can implement initiatives for loan forgiveness and fellowships to those committed to educating the nursing youth after obtaining their nursing licenses. This will not only supplement the amount of nursing staff available to teach in programs across the country, but also will allow for higher enrollment rates, thus increasing the amount of new graduate nurses.

TONI M. FRANCIS

Girard

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