The great nursing shortage: Which states are hit hardest and what’s being done to help?

Being understaffed and overworked has been a mainstay in the medical field ever since there's been a medical field. As our population continues to grow and Baby Boomers head into their golden years, be it due to retirement or health problems, the issue keeps getting worse and worse.

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According to research and a forecast published by the American Journal of Medical Quality in January 2012, a shortage of registered nurses in the United States that started back in 2009 is projected to last until 2030, specifically in the West and the South. In October 2010 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report titled The Future of NursingIn this report, they called for an increase of 80% in baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce.

However, the current percentage of nurses with baccalaureate and/or graduate degrees is at 56%, far short of the recommended goal. Even with many nursing schools having to expand and are unable to keep up with new applicants, there just aren't enough nurses to meet the demands of the medical field.

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Which states have been hit hardest?

RN jobs are one of the top 3 growing professions right now per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Georgia is one of the states hit hardest by the nursing shortage, even with incentives such as student loan forgiveness and statewide initiatives like fellowships. Florida, Texas and California top the list of states that are facing a growing demand but not enough nurses to meet it, according to Rasmussen College. In 2016 alone, over 64,000 qualified applicants were turned down for program enrollment due to a lack of faculty.

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What’s being done to address the gaps?

There are solutions being implemented to help, including a Mercer University initiative. Qualified students can now apply to an accelerated 12-month program. The university's Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) begins in May 2019 at their Georgia Baptist College of Nursing located in Atlanta. It's expressly designed for graduates looking to change their career path. Students can utilize their existing non-nursing bachelor's degree to earn a BSN in as little as 12 months via a combination of online classes, rotations at area hospitals, and the college's top-of-the-line lab.

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Another solution has been the implementation of perks and signing bonuses from hospitals. One such example has been offered by UCHealth, which operates multiple acute-care hospitals and clinics in Colorado. According to Kathy Howell, chief nursing executive for UCHealth, the company has offered relocation assistance and signing bonuses of up to $10,000. UCHealth has also offered additional incentives such as $4,000 bonuses toward continuing education and a traveling RN program, which allows a 13-week rotation among its facilities. Current nursing professionals and soon-to-be nursing graduates would do well to ask potential employers about similar such programs.

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While signing bonuses, relocation services and loan forgiveness are all fantastic, some companies have gotten even more creative with incentives for prospective new nurses and to retain the ones they have. Some offer high-def televisions, home loan down payments, flexible scheduling and other creative bonus structures.

The fact of the matter is that nurses in every capacity are in high demand and that demand continues to grow with no signs of stopping any time soon. We need expanded nursing programs, and we need those expanded programs to be offered in more colleges and universities. Until that need is met, we will continue a perpetual shortage in every field. Nurses are our first contact, our continual care. They are the front line.