Nearly every state is dealing with its own nursing shortage. And during a time when virtually every hospital is stretched on nursing talent, there are actually nurses struggling to land a job. Such a paradox demands an explanation. Anna Louie Sussman of The Wall Street Journal shed some light on the situation in a recent article that explored the problem. As HCTN has covered before, it’s about education.
“Truthfully, an associate’s program is not really going to get you anywhere anymore,” said Megan Goodman to Sussman in the article. Goodman recently earned her associates degree in nursing last May, yet has been unable to land a job since. According to the article, Goodman was a dean’s list student at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. She also served on two student nursing boards.
And yet, as Sussman wrote, the 30-year old nurse has applied to “more than three dozen” hospitals jobs, to no avail. Worse, she’s one of hundreds of thousands of people to enroll in nursing school with the hopes of earning a well-paying and rewarding career in just two years of schooling. In fact, according to the article, the number of nursing programs jumped 41 percent between 2002 and 2014. During that time, the amount of new nurses ballooned about 80 percent; however, the number of nurses over 50 doubled, as many would-be retirees remained working.
This brings us to the popular “silver tsunami” term used in most national nursing shortage reports. A bulk of the nursing demographic is nearing retirement – senior nurses, nurse educators, etc. – and they’ll need to be replaced.
The Institute of Medicine recognized the problem, and in 2010, the third-party advisory group called for 80 percent of the nursing workforce to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. The goal was based on research dating to the early 2000s, research that showed how hospitals with a higher amount of nurses with a bachelor’s degree scored higher on indicators of “overall quality care.”
On top of The Institute of Medicine’s advisory, The Affordable Care Act put more focus on preventative care, which of course makes hospitals rely on nurses for more leadership and coordination skills – skills, as the article says, that are not part of the nursing associate degree curriculum.
This isn’t necessarily off in the horizon either – it’s happening now. There are already hospital systems requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher for their residency program. “BSN completion,” programs are now advertised at many universities, programs that allow associate-degree graduates earn their BSN. The courses are typically 18 months or so and focus on things like leadership, research evaluation and the history of nursing.
Veronica Feeg, associate dean and rector of the Center of Nursing Research and Scholarly Practice at Molloy College in New York, was quoted by Sussman saying:
The need for educated health workers who care for the most vulnerable people and carry enormous responsibility is not new, but requires more critical thinking than ever before.
The trajectory of nursing seems geared towards getting your bachelor’s. While many see this as a hurdle, the reality is, a bachelor’s is only going to increase your stock in what’s becoming a more competitive field.