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it’s easy to blame the nursing-shortage problem on a lack
of young people being attracted to the profession, close observers
argue that that’s actually not the case, particularly in California.
At a time when well-trained nurses are in demand more than ever,
there simply aren’t enough programs, or slots within the existing
programs, to educate them. The American Association of Colleges
of Nursing reports that in 2000-’01, nursing schools were
forced to turn away nearly 6,000 qualified applicants due to insufficient
number of faculty, clinical sites and classroom space, along with
budget constraints. Again, California is particularly hard-hit.
“Obstruction of the educational pipeline is the most serious
component of the nursing shortage in California,” says Cowan.
She points to waiting lists of three years or more for baccalaureate
programs, which are offered through the California State University
system, along with a lottery system for accepting applicants to
associate degree programs at many community colleges. The low output
of nursing graduates has compelled the state to become an importer
of nurses — more than half are educated outside California.
can become RNs in three ways: through a two-year associate degree,
a three-year hospital diploma or a four-year baccalaureate degree.
“We have a shortage of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in California,”
says Cowan. “These are the nurses who provide the case-management
and leadership skills, as well as many of the skills needed to work
in intensive-care units and emergency departments.” Cowan
sees an expanded CSU system, along with several UC campuses getting
into the business of educating undergraduate nurses, as critical
to meeting the state’s future nursing needs. In the meantime,
like the medical center, the School of Nursing conducts extensive
outreach in an effort to attract more people to the field, banking
that increasing the demand will eventually compel the state to invest
in the educational infrastructure required to meet it.
own baccalaureate program was discontinued in 1996 due to a budget
crunch. The School of Nursing, which now primarily graduates nurse
practitioners, recently submitted a proposal to start an undergraduate
program anew. But that proposal is on hold amid the state’s
current budget woes. Educating health-care professionals is expensive,
requiring high ratios of faculty to students. It costs twice as
much to educate a nurse as it does to educate, say, an English major,
says Kay Baker, associate dean for student affairs. “But an
English major isn’t going to help you to get better when you’re
in the hospital.”