Connecticut's struggle to find multiple solutions to its crippling nurse shortage is worth keeping an eye on
It's official – after Alaska, Connecticut has the worse nurse shortage problem in the nation, according to a study released by Connecticut Hospital Association back in April.
Currently there are 23,500 nurses in the state, 6,000 short of the ideal number. In 13 years the gap will mushroom to 22,400 nurses as the number of working nurses shrink to 15,000.
The reasons are obvious – the U.S. population is getting older. As the baby boomers retire they need more medical care. Yet, the nurse population is getting older too, with an average age of 44 across the nation. But new students cannot graduate fast enough to replace the retiring nurses.
Why there is a difficulty to replace the retiring generation of nurses?
First off, nursing is not promoted as an attractive and exciting career alternative to those students who are still in the secondary education system.
Secondly, even though at the college level there is adequate interest, the applicants are turned down due to lack of adequate faculty, classroom, lab space and funds to train the new nursing students.
Since there is a legal obligation to stick to a minimum student-faculty ratio, 130,000 applicants were turned away in 2006 from nursing schools, according to a report by the National League of Nursing.
And going one level deeper, one can also ask why do qualified nurses not want to earn graduate degrees and enjoy a new career as nursing school faculty?
One answer: working registered nurses hardly have the time and energy to squeeze in a demanding degree program to their daily schedules.
Here is another -- when a RN with a bachelor's or associate's degree can earn $50,000 to $60,000 year as a full-time hospital employee, the monetary incentives are not there for her to make the extra effort to become an academician since the chances are she will probably be paid less. The "equation of transition" still does not make economic sense for most nurses.
So what did the State of Connecticut do to remedy the situation?
Connecticut newspaper The Day (www.theday.com) ran an excellent story detailing the particulars of the CT program. Here are some highlights:
Hospitals like The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich launched "job shadowing" programs for high school juniors and seniors. The program allows the teenagers to visit the hospital for a day and listen to a panel of nurses about the various attractive career alternatives nursing provides.
L&M Hospital, which employs 500 registered nurses, launched a similar outreach program for elementary school children. At the Harbor Elementary School, for example, L&M nurses answer the students' question in a relaxed atmosphere and distribute latex gloves and face masks for them to try on.
Harbor School elementary students are also involved in another health career pilot program for the fourth and fifth graders, administered by UConn Avery Point.
Community colleges like Three Rivers are adding new nursing faculty positions thanks to donations from institutions like L&M. Average nursing class size was increased from 72 to 80. There is a wide-spread awareness in Connecticut that unless faculty numbers are improved, there won't be anyone to train the next generation of registered nurses.
Another measure implemented is the generous sign-up bonuses for CT nurses who volunteer for night shifts and for those who refer other nurses for the job.
Connecticut's struggle to find multiple solutions to its crippling nurse shortage is worth keeping an eye on.