Why becoming a nurse is more difficult now

Hospitals nationwide are trying to address nurse shortages by hiring new graduates. However, becoming a nurse has become more challenging, narrowing the pipeline for new nurses, NPR reported Oct. 25.

The interest is there, with enrollment and applications rising last year. However, U.S. nursing schools turned away 80,407 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2019 because of insufficient resources such as faculty numbers, clinical sites, classroom space and finances, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Nurse educators must have advanced degrees, yet generally earn about half that of a nurse working on a hospital floor. The pandemic exacerbated financial strains, forcing many educators to find other work, said Sharon Goldfarb, DNP, BSN, who teaches nursing at several California schools. She surveyed 91 community colleges in California and reported a 30 percent decrease in nursing faculty since the pandemic started.

"There is not a school I know of that isn't desperately looking for nursing faculty," Dr. Goldfarb said. 

Compounded by an aging demographic, U.S. nursing faculty has dropped to about two-thirds what it was in 2015, according to NPR. The American Nurses Association estimates that more than 500,000 nurses plan to retire by 2022.

The limited resources severely limit how many students schools can accept, and in some cases, disrupt classes themselves.

"Some schools went on hiatus; some schools reduced their enrollment, so they took even fewer students," Dr. Goldfarb said.

Additionally, students are having a harder time completing required clinical training since many hospitals curtailed training programs to control the risk of COVID-19 spread, though virtual learning and simulation labs have been able to somewhat mitigate the effect.

Ultimately, hospitals must lower some barriers to becoming a nurse, while maintaining high standards of education, training and patient care, NPR concluded.  

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