This Nursing Shortage is Different

Nebraska is concerned about the nursing shortage, and especially the fact that is likely to worsen over the next decade.

Juliann Sebastian, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing, says that this shortage is different because of the large number of aging Nebraskans, and the fact that they’re staying alive longer due to improved treatment techniques.

Also the shortages that Nebraska has already experienced got better temporarily, but the fundamental issues kept “redeveloping and compounding.”

So what to do? A study is looking into that.

Solutions include recruiting and retaining nursing professors, addressing infrastructure needs, improving access in rural and underserved areas and addressing health care reform issues.

Sebastian said 73 of Nebraska‘s 93 counties have fewer nurses than the national standard.

More need to be trained, but 402 qualified applicants to Nebraska nursing programs were turned away in 2010-11, mainly because of a lack of qualified educators.

In the next nine years, the shortage will reach 5,581, according to projections by the Nebraska Center for Nursing.

Sebastian said researchers have found the ratio of nurses to patients is related to quality of care, patient mortality, hospital infections and falls, and the ability to save a hospitalized patient’s life when he or she experiences a complication.

The Institute of Medicine recommends increasing the proportion of baccalaureate trained nurses to 80 percent by 2020 and doubling the number of nurses with doctorates.

Only half of Nebraska registered nurses have four-year baccalaureate degrees; 5.3 percent have master’s or doctorates.

The UNMC College of Nursing program in Lincoln is vital in terms of the nursing shortage, Sebastian said.

But the program has turned down 60 percent of qualified applicants over the past several years, and needs to be expanded, she said.

Now, it is in leased spaced downtown, without the adequate number of technologically wired conference and seminar rooms and office space, according to the Nebraska Center for Nursing.

Classrooms are full, and research is limited by space.

UNMC is proposing to build a new 45,525-square foot, $16.4 million facility on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East Campus that would accommodate a 23 percent increase in the number of students who could study there by 2020.

University officials are hoping the Legislature can appropriate some money for that project.

Another possible solution is development of post-graduate residency programs for RNs and nurse practitioners. Those would be like physician residency programs and would help them adapt to the realities of busy, complex clinical practices.

Bruce Rieker, with the Nebraska Hospital Association, said the shortage goes beyond nursing to other hospital health care workers. But nursing is the largest occupation.

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