Nursing Schools Struggle to Meet Demand

The UT School of Nursing was recently named in the top five percent of best nursing schools in the country, but U.S. News and World Report. School officials say having that status clearly is good, but what they're really focused on is the ongoing shortage of nurses. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The nursing shortage is nothing new. Hospitals and clinics have been operating understaffed and overworked for a long time now. But UT School of Nursing Dean Dr. Patricia Starck says the problem is getting worse, not better.

"The demand is growing at about 18 percent a year, the supply is only growing at about 15 percent. So we cannot keep -- the gap is just getting wider and wider the further out we go. So our feeling is we have to start now. We can't wait until we think about this longer, we really have to start now to address this problem."

Starck is co-chairing a commission in Austin to look into the shortage. She says by the year 2020, schools will need to quadruple the number of nurses they are graduating to meet the demand.

"It is in every hospital and every community. So the reason is the population is increasing, people are aging and you consume more health services as you grow older. And so all these factors are coming together at the same time so that we are having a greater demand for nurses than the supply can meet."

But the real catch with the nursing shortage is not that there aren't enough nursing candidates. Thousands of people apply every year for the nursing school positions across the country. UT's school even has an accelerated nursing program where someone with a bachelor's degree can enroll and graduate with a nursing degree in 12 months. About 340 people applied for that program last year, for only 40 available slots.

"The irony is that we have plenty of people who want to get in nursing school. We just don't have the funds to hire the faculty in order to increase enrollment. We are working with the Texas Legislature and with the Governor's office and we're hopeful there's going to be some increased funds so that we can expand the number of nurses."

If the number of nurses entering the workforce continues to lag at the current rate, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing estimates there will be a shortage of one million nurses by the year 2020. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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