The numbers are startling. Even though there are more than 2.7 million registered nurses in the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s a looming shortage. Demand for health care is growing much faster than the country’s supply of nurses, making it one of the best jobs of the future. Even so, according to a recent report by Rasmussen College, the country will need 1.2 million more nurses by 2030.
Several factors drive the demand for more nurses, including an aging population. More than 76 million baby boomers (ages 49 to 67) account for roughly 25% of the total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Population Reference Bureau projects that baby boomers are living longer than previous generations.
Unfortunately, they’re not living healthier: Specifically, baby boomers are more likely to be obese and have high blood pressure and diabetes. The combination of living longer but not healthier means that these members of society will have significant, long term healthcare needs.
That’s why even those more than 2.7 million registered nurses – the fifth-largest occupation in the country behind retail salespeople, cashiers, food prep and serving workers, and office clerks – aren’t enough.
How the supply of nurses is changing
There’s also a problem with the supply: Among those nurses working now are a ton of baby boomers, many of whom are at or near retirement. Within the next 15 years, nearly 33% of registered nurses will stop working. By 2024, this number will reach 650,000, and by 2030, it is projected that close to 850,000 nurses will have retired from the workforce.
The solution seems simple: train more nurses. But it’s hard to train more nurses without trainers. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that nearly 66% of nursing schools turn away applicants because of faculty shortages. In 2014 (the most recent year with available data), 68,934 qualified applicants could not be admitted to undergraduate and graduate nursing programs because there were not enough faculty and preceptors – specialized mentors. Also, there aren’t enough classrooms or enough clinical sites to get more nurses ready.
States and the need for more nurses
Dr. Joan Rich, vice president of the Rasmussen College School of Nursing, tells GoodCall, “The greatest nursing shortage is in California, where the deficit will reach a high of 230,000 by 2030.” Rich says Florida and Texas take second and third places – just these three states are responsible for 40% of the nursing shortfall.
Stephanie Woods, Ph.D, RN, associate professor and associate dean for the College of Nursing at Texas Woman’s University T. Boone Pickens Institute of Health Sciences Dallas Center, confirms that demand is exceeding supply, even though nursing programs have increased. “Applications to Texas nursing schools peaked in 2013 with 29,265 qualified applicants applying for 16,652 available slots,” Woods says.
Cherlyn Shultz-Ruth, MSN, RN, and dean of allied health and nursing at Mountain View College in Dallas, agrees that the state has a severe deficit and tells GoodCall, “Nursing schools across Texas struggle with having adequate clinical sites to train students.” Since they don’t have enough qualified nursing faculty, she says they can’t increase their enrollment numbers.
Again, there’s more bad news: That nursing faculty shortage will probably get much worse before it gets better. Dr. Janet Mahoney, dean of the Marjorie K. Unterberg School of Nursing and Health Studies at Monmouth University, tells GoodCall that the average age of nursing faculty members continues to rise. “The average ages of doctorally prepared nurse faculty holding the ranks of professor, associate professor, and assistant professor are 61.6, 57.6 and 51.4 years old respectively,” Mahoney explains. “For master’s degree-prepared nurse faculty, the average ages for professors, associate professors, and assistant professors are 57.1, 56.8, and 51.2 years, respectively.”
Without qualified nursing faculty, Mahoney warns that there won’t be anyone to teach the next generation of nurses, and she explains that the situation is more dire than most people realize. “We need more educators to prepare bedside nurses, community nurses, administrators, researchers, policy makers, public health nurses, informatic nurses and the list goes on and on,” Mahoney says.
But not all of the faculty members are retiring. Some leave for greener pastures in private and clinical sectors. According to the Rasmussen report, the average nurse practitioner earns $91,310, while the average nursing school assistant professor earns $73,633.
That’s the national average, but depending on location and organization, salaries can be higher or lower. Juanita Flint, Ph.D, RN, FNP-C and executive dean of health and human services at Brookhaven College in Carrollton/Farmers Branch, Texas, tells GoodCall, “Nurses who have earned their master’s degree typically can make from $75,000 to $125,000, but faculty starting salaries are low.”
Flint gives an example from her own life. “I am an administrator, and I thought I would check out a nearby university, so I applied.” Even though she has a Ph.D, is a board- certified Family Nurse Practitioner with 24 years of teaching experience, and stays current by practicing on weekends, the university offered her $54,000. “I laughed,” Flint says, “No way.”
This is a major part of the problem in acquiring and retaining nursing faculty. According to Shultz-Ruth, “Budget constraints on nursing schools won’t allow faculty to be paid better salaries, compared to working in a hospital.”
About those qualified applicants
While the Rasmussen report and some of our experts point to a lack of qualified faculty as one of the primary reasons for the shortage of nursing students, Woods believes the numbers may be off since each school is responsible for reporting its number of applicants. “We do not know if that student has applied to multiple schools,” Woods explains. “The numbers of qualified applicants reported has redundancy because applicants may apply to multiple programs, so one person may account for three or four, or more of the numbers in the total.”
Woods believes that nursing schools need better data to determine why qualified applicants are not being accepted into nursing schools.
Closing the gap
How can we get more students interested in the nursing profession? Interest may not be the issue. “Thousands of nursing students are interested in the nursing profession, but they are not able to attend because of the cost of nursing school; personal life demands, such as family and work; and concerns about being successful and prepared,” Shultz-Ruth says.
The key to having more nurses is to address those issues. “We can get them interested in nursing by reducing the cost of nursing school; offering more resources for financial and family support, such as childcare; offering accelerated, successful nursing programs so that students can graduate faster and enter the workforce; and offering courses that can prepare students prior to the time they are admitted to nursing programs,” Shultz-Ruth explains.
Of course, the shortage of nursing faculty also must be addressed. Rich recommends offering accelerated courses that allow students to study and work. “For example, the Rasmussen College Master of Science in Nursing degree program is designed to prepare currently licensed registered nurses (RNs) who hold a baccalaureate degree in nursing to assume advanced nursing leadership roles and directly contribute to the advancement of the nursing profession in both educational and healthcare settings.” Courses are online so students can take one class at a time and graduate in 18 months.
Since cost can be a prohibitive factor, potential students should be aware of financial resources that can help them avoid massive student loan debt. Mahoney tells GoodCall, “There are scholarships and grants offered through organizations such as Robert Wood Johnson, AACN, and Human Resource and Services Administration (HRSA) that are helping students in various ways to pursue advanced teaching positions in nursing.”
In addition, Monmouth University offers a Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP) for students who want to pursue nursing faculty positions. “This HRSA grant will assist master or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) candidates with a Nursing Education Endorsement by providing up to 85 percent of educational costs, with the intent that once the student graduates, he/she will work as nursing faculty for four years in an accredited nursing program.”