Op-ed: Utah has a nursing shortage, and schools are coming together to address it

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Utah does not have enough nurses to care for its growing population. What can be done?

Who gets sick people and their families through the hardest times in life? Nurses. Who supports the sick and dying endlessly and tirelessly? Nurses. Who volunteers to work overtime for unselfish reasons, knowing that if they do not patients and co-workers will suffer? Nurses.

A nurse will touch every person’s life at one time or another. This happens when a family member is sick, or when we have our own health problems. People are living longer than ever before. They are facing an increase in diseases and chronic health care needs.

There is a serious shortage of health care providers, especially RNs, to care for such patients. The Utah Medical Education Council says that the nursing shortage consists of as many as 1,245 job openings statewide. According to a study by the Utah Foundation in 2014, this gap is only going to get worse.

How can we make sure that the growing Utah population has the nursing support it needs? What do we do to help ensure the aging population is going to be in capable, caring hands? The solution is clear: Utah needs to educate more nurses.

Increasing state funding for Utah’s eight public nursing schools now and for the future will increase class sizes over the next four years without the need to increase facilities. The monies paid would go directly to increasing the number of new registered nurses (RNs) graduating from public nursing schools each year. Support for Utah’s public nursing schools would ensure continued affordable, high quality health care for Utah’s population now and for many generations to come.

Utah has a fast-growing elderly population and an overall young population. Utah also has the lowest death rate in the country. As the population ages, many are entering retirement with fewer people to support society as a whole. Many bedside and faculty nurses are in line to retire at a time when the number of people needing care will rise.

A 2014 national study found that higher nurse-to-population ratios create healthier communities by providing health care, health education, health promotion and disease prevention. Communities have lower rates of poor/fair overall health, increased screening rates and lower teen birth rates when the ideal nurse-to-population ratio exists.

According to the Utah Medical Education Council, Utah is 47th in the country for nurse-per-population ratio. In order to rank in the top 25 percent, there needs to be a huge increase in our nursing workforce.

Nursing is a highly sought-after career with most of Utah’s actively licensed RNs employed. Many qualified students are delayed from pursuing a nursing career due to program rejection. This means they have to wait a lengthy amount of time for another chance to apply, and some may go on to other careers instead.

The UM Education Council stated that Utah’s publicly funded nursing programs reject over 900 qualified applicants each year. This is because there is not enough funding to support faculty throughout the state.

An exciting development in nursing education is the creation of the Utah Nursing Consortium. This is an alliance of all eight publicly funding nursing schools within the state of Utah. They are working together expand the number of graduating nurses to meet Utah’s health care needs. They are willing to accept the challenge of educating more nurses to meet Utah’s needs.

With financial support, these eight schools can increase graduation rates by 25 percent in three to five years.

Lara Haynes, Niesha Nelson and Carlos Eduardo Bonilla are in their last year of their Advanced Practice Registered Nursing degrees at the University of Utah.

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