The nation's existing nursing shortage could threaten health care services for most Americans, including 79 million aging baby boomers. Currently, there are about 116,000 unfilled nursing positions in U.S. hospitals. Add to that the nearly 100,000 vacancies in nursing and related-care jobs in nursing homes, and it isn't hard to see why the nation is facing an unprecedented nursing shortage. Despite the dire need for nurses, nursing schools are turning away qualified applicants every year because they lack the faculty and the capacity to educate all those interested in pursuing nursing careers.
To help combat this problem, the Center to Champion Nursing in America, a joint program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AARP and the AARP Foundation, is joining with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Division of Nursing, to host the Nursing Education Capacity Summit. The meeting, taking place February 4 to 5 in Baltimore, will bring together representatives from 44 states to discuss solutions to the problem.
The Nursing Education Capacity Summit will convene 18 state teams who have been implementing state-specific solutions to address nursing faculty shortages. These teams will mentor representatives from the other 26 states, and will share best practices to expand nursing education. They will seek to foster action in four key areas:
- establishing strategic partnerships and resource alignment
- formulating policy and regulation
- increasing faculty capacity and diversity
- redesigning educational curricula.
The summit comes as U.S. lawmakers and the new presidential administration have expressed the desire to make health care a primary concern while also coping with the economic downturn and rising unemployment numbers. AARP recently included aid for expanded health care staffing as one of its priorities for economic stimulus in the United States. They propose providing grants to schools to admit more graduate and undergraduate nursing students. Such a move has the potential to assist thousands of job seekers within the next few years.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recently reported the lowest annual growth in enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in the last eight years. Preliminary data from the AACN fall 2008 survey show that last year, enrollment increased by only 2 percent at a time when there were more than 200,000 job openings for nurses.
According to a 2008 American Viewpoint survey commissioned by the Center to Champion Nursing, almost 90 percent of Americans say that when Congress and the president act on health care reform, it is important that they address the nursing shortage and the shortage of nursing faculty. Nearly 90 percent agree that making sure there are enough nurses to monitor patient conditions, coordinate care and educate patients should be part of efforts to improve health care quality. Finally, almost nine out of every 10 Americans believe that nurses can play an important role in reducing health care costs because of their key role in assuring patient safety, preventing medical errors, coordinating care and providing both primary and preventive care.
These opinions can encourage all those meeting in Baltimore in February to work toward concrete solutions for the nation’s nursing shortage.