- The COVID-19 pandemic and enrollment challenges have been major contributors to the nursing shortage in the U.S.
- Schools and universities are developing strategies that will allow them to increase enrollment and address the nursing shortage.
- Nursing candidates have a unique opportunity to fill a healthcare gap.
Many factors have contributed to a growing nursing shortage. These include the approaching retirement of baby boomers and the COVID-19 pandemic. A response addressing all these factors is necessary to correct the issue, which has affected patient care, nurses, and institutions across the U.S.
Nursing schools are altering their programs to address the nursing shortage. These changes make the programs more attractive to nursing student candidates. We discuss how nursing schools and universities are responding to the nursing shortage. Learn how these changes might benefit aspiring nurses like you.
Nursing Shortages and Nursing Program Enrollment
Schools and universities have recognized the relationship between nursing shortages around the U.S. and nursing program enrollment challenges.
Nursing Shortage Contributors
Nursing shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic were large contributors to the growth of the travel nursing industry in 2020. The industry grew by 35% in 2020, according to an article The Washington Post, and is expected to increase by another 40%. Nurses are quitting staff positions and picking up travel jobs, sometimes tripling their salary.
Unfortunately, this has added to the nursing shortages across the U.S. and created a financial sinkhole for hospitals that are hemorrhaging money to pay their salaries. Some state legislatures are creating new programs to invest in nursing education. For example, Arizona recently passed House Bill 2691, which allocates up to $15 million toward establishing a nurse education investment pilot program. Washington introduced similar legislation in 2022, distributing $38 million to create and expand nursing programs throughout the state.
The shortage is estimated to grow to 450,000 nurses by 2025, as per McKinsey & Company. This growth could create a 20% gap between supply and demand. To quickly cover this shortfall, nursing programs would have to graduate more than double the number of nursing graduates for the next three years.
While the shortage of nurses has risen, so has the number of qualified applicants turned away from baccalaureate programs. There were 60,085 turned away in 2018 compared to 76,140 in 2021. There are many reasons for the nursing shortage. Some of the obstacles faced by nursing programs include declining faculty as baby boomers retire. Of significant concern are the 14,743 graduate applicants turned away, further limiting the pool of nursing faculty.
There’s often a limited number of nurse educators due to the salary differences between advanced practice registered nurses who work in hospitals or offices and those who choose an academic setting. To help minimize the impact of faculty shortages, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has focused media attention on the issue. They are also working to secure federal funding for faculty development programs.
Additional challenges that programs face include insufficient clinical sites and classroom space. These limitations have created a funnel that limits the number of nursing students a program can accommodate in the face of a growing shortage of nurses.
How Schools and Universities Are Responding to the Nursing Shortage
Schools and universities are developing strategies that will allow them to increase enrollment and address the nursing shortage. Many of these programs have been backed by state legislation for increased funding.
― Rolling Admission
Florida State University believes they have the faculty and clinical space to accommodate more students. They have initiated rolling admission of students in the spring, summer, and fall semesters to attract more students. The school has also extended the application deadlines.
― Opening New Programs
St. John’s University in Queens, New York, is seeking approval to offer a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. The proposed program hopes to help nurses who must meet the requirements of New York’s “BSN in 10 Law” passed in 2017. The program will be incorporated with the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The administration plans an interprofessional educational program for greater cooperation in the workforce.
Dallas Community College offers an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program but will admit students into a BSN program in the fall of 2023. The University of Maryland offers nursing students their preferred clinical placement if they commit to working at that hospital after graduating.
― Dual Admissions
The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) is partnering with City Colleges of Chicago’s Malcolm X College to create a dual degree program. Participants will graduate with a BSN from UIC and an ADN from Malcolm X College. The curriculum allows students to finish their BSN faster than four years and less expensively. The program has the added advantage of attracting a diverse set of students.
― Online Programs
Online ADN and BSN programs offer nursing schools greater flexibility with limited resources, and they spread clinical placements over a wider geographical area. Candidates must be careful to understand the school requirements for online nursing programs and consider the pros and cons between in-person versus online nursing programs. Some programs are 100% online with clinical placement in the student’s local area, and others require the student to attend some assessment programs 1-3 days a semester.
Investing in Training Opportunities
― Public and Private Partnerships
The University of South Carolina is partnering with Lexington Medical Center to build a 50,000-square-foot simulation center on the hospital campus. The center will help to increase clinical opportunities and classroom space. In May 2022, the college graduated 220 nurses, but they anticipate increasing that number to 400 when the center is complete.
In a press release, Melissa Taylor, vice president and chief nursing officer at Lexington Medical Center, said: “South Carolina is projected to have the fourth-highest nursing shortage in the county by 2030. We’re excited about the impact of this partnership, which will grow the pipeline of skilled nurses for our organization and the state and give qualified individuals more opportunity to enter the nursing profession.”
― Facilitation of New Clinical Opportunities
The University of California San Francisco partnered with Operation Safer Ground to offer students more clinical opportunities in public health while meeting a public health need.
― Accelerated BSN Programs
Some universities already have accelerated BSN programs, and others like the University of South Carolina are exploring the possibility of creating an accelerated program. An accelerated program allows a candidate with a bachelor’s degree in another subject to complete a BSN in four semesters.
Ways These Nursing Shortage Solutions Help Aspiring Nurses
These creative efforts offer unique benefits to nursing candidates. Consider how you may benefit from these nursing program solutions.
― Flexible Scheduling
Nursing programs offer several types of flexible scheduling to attract nursing candidates who otherwise may not have been able to attend. Many programs offer working students the ability to attend part time. Online options allow students to cut commuting time to campus coursework.
Nursing programs also offer rolling admissions three times a year, attracting students whose schedules may not allow them to wait nine months to start school. This also offers students the option of completing the program sooner. Online nursing bridge programs allow ADN nurses to complete a BSN in a shorter time while continuing to work.
― Shorter Programs
Some programs offer an accelerated nursing program option to fast-track individuals with a bachelor’s degree outside of nursing. This reduces the amount of time in school. Some programs also offer students the option of taking more classes per semester to shorten the length of the program.
― Accelerated Entrance to the Workforce
Entering the workforce more quickly gives nurses greater options for job opportunities. It also offers the ability to start making money quicker. For some nurses, it can also help reduce the number of nursing student loans and help pay them off more quickly.
― Diverse Clinical Placements
Nursing programs are seeking added clinical placements for nursing students to expand the number of applicants they can accept. This improves the diversity of student experiences in school. It also offers opportunities to provide care to diverse populations. The added opportunities may help improve cultural awareness for nurses and its influence on patient care and outcomes.
― Greater Number of Training Opportunities
As schools open new simulation labs to accommodate more students, technological advancements are built into the system. Nursing students have access to web-based simulations and technology that models interaction. Also, technology can give nursing programs the power to engage in connected teaching with students in person and online.
Applying to Nursing Programs
Nursing candidates have a unique opportunity to fill a healthcare gap while taking advantage of the benefits programs offer to attract new nurses to the field. These benefits can help jump-start an amazing career in healthcare that offers you an opportunity to diverse career opportunities.
Nursing candidates should fully evaluate the options available as they consider the nursing program that best meets their needs. Options include online programs, accelerated programs for students with a bachelor’s outside of nursing, rolling admission, cost of the program, and clinical placements.
Programs and hospitals are also offering financial incentives to help attract qualified candidates who may not have been able to afford the program. Some hospitals offer tuition reimbursement for ADN-to-BSN programs, which also helps the institution. Take care to read the fine print on the agreement, which may require you to work a certain number of years at the institution in exchange for tuition.
Nursing scholarships and financial assistance have been a mainstay for nursing candidates. However, some states like Kentucky now offer incentive scholarships that may not need to be directly applied to tuition or books.
As state legislatures and nursing programs continue to grapple with the challenges of addressing the nursing shortage, nursing candidates are faced with new options and choices. However you choose to complete your nursing degree, you’ll find this career offers the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of your patients while compensating you at a rate that is far higher than average.