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Despite down economy, nursing shortage continues

By Staff | Feb 5, 2009

The tightening economy could be reversing statewide efforts to deal with a shortage of nurses.

According to a report from the Florida Center for Nursing, there is currently a shortage of 12,000 registered nurses in the state, a number expected to reach 52,000 by 2020.

Nursing programs are working to reverse this trend, but a new survey by the Florida Center for Nursing found that 12,000 qualified applicants were denied acceptance into a nurse training program in the 2007-2008 school year – an amount that would have filled the estimated shortage.

More Floridians are interested in the nursing industry than ever before, but limited funding and small faculties have created a supply-line “bottleneck,” according to the survey.

“In addition to a serious shortage of funding for new faculty, nearly half of all programs also reported significant difficulty with placing students in sites that provide interactive clinical experiences,” said Dr. Jennifer Nooney, associate director of research for the Florida Center for Nursing, in a prepared statement.

Marianne Rodgers, director of FGCU’s School of Nursing, said that nursing shortages are a combination of declining funds for education and a limited amount of faculty.

“What is creating a lot of nursing shortage is the age of nurses and retirement,” said Rodgers.

Although more students are showing interest in nursing programs, Rodgers said there comes a point when higher institutions have to limit the amount of students who matriculate.

At the same time, veteran nurses in the industry or working as teachers may be putting off retirement because of the economy. And universities are simultaneously having to figure out where they can make cuts because of less funding.

“Certainly not just in Florida but across the country, institutions of higher education are having to cut back financially,” she said.

Rodgers said nursing shortages in Lee County aren’t as profound as in other regions of the state such as Central Florida. Furthermore, she said shortages vary across the United States.

“This is true around the country, the shortage very much exists, but it isn’t all equally distributed. And probably has to do where the housing shortages have been,” said Rodgers.

The state had a budget shortfall of $2.5 billion and next year that is expected to be over $4 billion. Colleges across the state could feel the effect of cuts on a myriad of programs.

Mary Lou Brunell, executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing, said the state is facing “a crippling breakdown in our healthcare system that could have disastrous effects on patient care.”

“If we are to successfully address the shortage, nursing education must remain a funding priority, even in tough economic times,” said Brunell in a statement from the Florida Center for Nursing. “Investing in nursing education is investing in the future health of our state.”