Nursing schools across the USA are turning away thousands of qualified applicants every year while the demand for nurses is already outstripping the supply. Nursing schools just can’t admit more students because of faculty shortages, limited spaces for clinical training and budget constraints.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nursing is one of the fastest growing occupations in the USA. At the same time, the profession is aging, with a large number retiring soon, and there are also many who leave nursing shortly after qualifying. Estimates are that there will be nearly 1.1 million job openings by 2024 and nursing school enrolments are not growing fast enough to meet this demand.
At the same time, nursing schools are getting far more applications than they can accommodate. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that over 60,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs in 2016.
over 60,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs in 2016.
At 35, Erica Kay will be trying for the third time to get into nursing. As a qualified surgical technician and a certified medical assistant, she has worked in the field of health care for over a decade. “I know I will be a great nurse and I’m studying very hard to get accepted into a program,” Kay said. “One school responded in a letter they had 343 applications and only accepted 60 students.”
Admitting more students is, however, a complex problem. A shortage of qualified teachers is the biggest obstacle, according to information collected by the AACN. “The annual national faculty vacancy rate in nursing programs is over 7%. That’s pretty high,” said Robert Rosseter, spokesperson for the AACN. “It’s about two teachers per nursing school or a shortage of 1,565 teachers.”
Just as for the nursing population as a whole, many experienced nurse faculty members are retiring. Furthermore, there is competition for highly qualified nurses from the clinical and private sectors, where they can earn considerably more than in teaching. Nurses applying to study for masters and doctoral degrees – the requirement for a teaching position – are also being turned away due to faculty shortages.
Nurses applying to study for masters and doctoral degrees – the requirement for a teaching position – are also being turned away due to faculty shortages.
Further challenges that limit the number of students that can be admitted include the availability of enough classroom space, budget constraints as well as enough spaces in area hospitals for clinical training. There is also a shortage of clinical preceptors – with required ratios being laid down by the state boards of nursing to ensure adequate clinical supervision.
The AACN has developed various strategies to address the problem of faculty shortages. Some nursing schools have also obtained private support to expand student capacity, and multiple states have introduced initiatives to address the scarcity of nurses as well as faculty. For example, the University of Wisconsin has provided a grant, with fellowships and loan forgiveness, for nurses who agree to teach in the state after they have graduated.