Easing immigration standards for nurses educated in other countries is a quick way to address America's nursing shortage, but, as a long-term solution, it would be far better to solve this problem by investing in education programs for American students who want to become nurses.
During negotiations last month over American immigration policies, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas sponsored a proposal that would remove limits on the number of nurses who can immigrate to the United States. His goal was to remedy a nursing shortage that is expected to mushroom in the United States in the next decade.
Like teaching, nursing is a field that attracted many women when other career opportunities for them were slim. Now, a generation of dedicated teachers and nurses is reaching retirement age, and there are fewer men or women willing to take their places in jobs that traditionally have been underpaid and underappreciated.
Last December the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that 703,000 new nursing jobs would be generated by 2014. Where those nurses are going to come from, no one knows.
Attracting well-trained nurses from other countries is one strategy, but the United States shouldn't give up on the many American students who could be filling these important jobs. Instead of filling these jobs with immigrant nurses, why not rev up investment in American nursing programs?
In Kansas alone, hundreds of applicants are turned away from nursing schools each year because the programs don't have the faculty to expand their classes. The Kansas Legislature approved $3.4 million this year as part of a proposed 10-year, $30 million plan to increase the number of nurses in the state by 25 percent.
Applications currently are being accepted from the 21 nursing programs in the Kansas Board of Regents system that want to use some of that funding to upgrade and expand their programs. The Kansas initiative is a good one that should be duplicated in other states and supported at the federal level.
Nurses from developing countries such as India and the Philippines may be able to help ease America's nursing shortage, but we shouldn't be willing to give up these jobs or, in any way, compromise our training standards for people who serve such a vital hands-on role in our health care system.
Nursing is a career that many students obviously want to pursue. We owe it to them and to ourselves to provide them the opportunity to fill these important jobs.