Rx for the nursing shortage
By Rebecca Vesely - STAFF WRITER
Sunday, July 06, 2003 -
The reasons for the acute national nursing shortage are well-documented - more career options for women than a generation ago; hospital workforce consolidations in the mid-1990s; and an aging population are the oft-cited culprits. How to fix the problem of not enough nurses is not as easy to list - though we could start with our elementary schools, according to a recent report.
While applicants to nursing schools are at an all-time high - with most California community colleges that offer nursing programs experiencing long waiting lists - the drop-out rate averages a whopping 20 percent.
Students said one of the main reasons for dropping out was because they were unprepared for the math and science portions of the curriculum, according to a report by the California Post Secondary Education Commission.
The schools with the highest dropout rates - some up to 85 percent - had a larger percentage of African American and Latino students, which the report authors attributed to poor high school preparation in science and math.
Strong math and science skills are key to nursing because the profession has evolved into a highly technical and specialized field, said Linda Bell, a clinical practice specialist with the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, who has been a nurse for 30 years.
``Patients rarely come in with just one disease anymore,'' Bell said. ``They are a conglomerate of their medical history. A patient just had a heart attack, but they also have diabetes.''
The report recommends that nursing schools standardize prerequisite coursework so incoming students can be better prepared. And the state should provide funds for tutoring, counseling and English language services to nursing students. The Nurse Workforce Initiative, outlined by Gov. Gray Davis in January, would allocate an additional $60 million for community and state college programs, as well as training programs for health care support workers to upgrade their skills to become registered nurses.
Hiring tutors and enrolling incoming nursing students in remedial chemistry should happen quickly, the report warns, as California needs to graduate an additional 3,600 nurses every year for the next decade to meet patient demand.
Contact Rebecca Vesely at firstname.lastname@example.org