Efforts in Kansas to ease the ongoing nurses shortage deserve applause, but it seems that this problem isn't likely to go away anytime soon.
An Associated Press story last week cited a Kansas Department of Labor study that estimated Kansas will need 11,350 new registered nurses by 2010 to keep up with the demand. Kansas nursing schools graduated just 1,761 new nurses last year, which leaves the state far off the pace to meet the projected need.
Unfortunately, the shortage of nurses is a cycle that often feeds itself. When nursing numbers drop, each nurse must care for more patients, increasing their stress and concern about mistakes that could affect their patients. That situation obviously affects their job satisfaction and make it difficult to retain nurses.
Kansas, of course, isn't the only state with this problem. With a vacancy rate of 8.8 percent, Kansas is about at the national average. To its credit, the Kansas Legislature and the Kansas Board of Regents have launched an initiative that may not totally relieve the shortage, but will at least move things in the right direction.
Earlier this year, the regents announced the results of the first year of a 10-year, $30 million effort to boost nursing education in the state. During fiscal year 2007, they reported an increase of 507 in the number of students admitted to nursing programs and the addition of 29 full-time and 23 part-time faculty members. The program also awarded 53 scholarships to students who agreed to teach nursing in Kansas after completing a master's or doctoral degree in the field.
Because the Kansas University School of Medicine is one of the few Kansas schools that offer such programs, it plays a key role in increasing faculty numbers. That's a critical piece of the puzzle because nursing programs have had to turn away students because they didn't have sufficient teachers. This is particularly true at the KUMC where sizeable numbers of qualified applicants have been denied admission to the nursing program.
As is true of K-12 school teachers, nursing is a field that has perhaps been undervalued and underpaid largely because it is a predominantly female career. There are many dedicated teachers and nurses who do a wonderful job, but maintaining highly qualified work forces in both fields will be a challenge.
The Kansas programs to train and retain more nurses are a positive step, but the numbers show that more steps will be needed if the state is to meet the increased health care demands of the aging baby boom generation.