We can’t graduate enough nurses

NursesWe need a lot of nurses, but American universities just can’t make enough of them, according to a new Georgetown study (pdf).  This supports my Health Care Nation scenario, where medical fields become the dominant economic and cultural engine of the United States.

We project that there will be 1.6 million job openings for nurses through 2020. Of these,
• 700,000 will be newly created opportunities, and
• 880,000 will be replacements for retiring baby boomer nurses

There’s more.  Campuses are already expanding the number of nurses, but it’s not going to be enough:

[W]e project that the active supply of nursing professionals will increase steadily from the current 3.5 million nursing professionals to 3.95 million by 2020, including over 3.2 million RNs and 703,000 LPNs/LVNs. Yet, this substantial growth in supply will not be enough to meet the demand for nursing professionals, which will be around 4.14 million by 2020.

As a GenX academic, I’m naturally leery of future career promises built on boomer retirements.  I remember those 1990s ideas of wide-open job spaces. But this report still seems plausible, especially given nurse burnout rates.
For example,

The growing and aging U.S. population, increased healthcare coverage, rising disposable incomes, and changing healthcare delivery models all have contributed to the steady growth in demand for nursing services.  Moreover, an aging workforce, a demanding job environment, and inconsistent wages and wage increases have contributed to many qualified nurses exiting the profession. In addition, recruitment, training, and retention continue to be significant challenges. As a result, in rural areas, especially in western and southwestern states, nursing shortages continue to be a challenge for employers and patients.

What does this mean for higher education?  First, we may see a construction boom, both in buildings and academic programs, since the nursing shortage owes much to this:

the lack of enough educational facilities to accept all qualified students and, more importantly, the lack of enough faculty and clinical placement sites.

That will include closer academic-medical collaboration, as my scenario indicates.

Second, we could see some geographical settling, as several big states (California, Texas, New York) both produce and employ the largest numbers of nurses.  Interestingly, Southern health care tends to use more nurses than do other regions.  So we might see campuses in those states making the biggest play for nursing education.

Third, if the need for nurses remains that great, this should be a massive area for online education to experiment and invest.

I’d love to hear thoughts from people working in and around the medial education world.

(historical photo by State Library of Victoria)

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3 Responses to We can’t graduate enough nurses

  1. Janet Whalen says:

    I would love to get my masters and teach nursing school but can’t afford it at the moment. Also not eager to join the adjunct army of faculty in these days of declining tenured positions. Is my field an exception to this trend? I’d also prefer to get my degree in a brick and mortar setting, but these seem difficult to find for a working RN returning to school among the plethora of online RN-BSN or MSN programmes.

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  2. Working at a college with a school of nursing that comprises about half the college, this is the common line, and especially in the graduate nursing programs it holds true. Enrollment is increasing year over year and almost all the growth is in those programs. And it is an easy sell right now to students who are entering higher ed with the principle goal of having good employment opportunities upon graduation. Some of this is the shock of the recession which has students, especially those with parents who don’t have degrees and were more likely to be hit hard by the wave of unemployment, ready to jump into degree tracks where the value proposition is easily understood. Some of it is students knowing they’ll need a certain level of income to afford repayment of loans. Some of it is the greater Boston geography which has a large healthcare sector and so students are more exposed to the variety of options available to them with a nursing degree, and a larger supply of existing nurses looking to gain additional education for professional purposes.

    Janet, I do not think nursing as a field is any more exempt from the adjunct army circumstances, but there are, at least, still places that have not given over all of the brick and mortar in an attempt to reach the students in your situation.

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  3. Pingback: Trends to watch in 2016: education contexts | Bryan Alexander

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