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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    AZ nursing shortage worsened by education cuts

    If you’re at all accident-prone, or if you’re the type to get paranoid about SARS, avian flu, bad spinach or, most recently, the dreaded swine flu, then this has happened to you: You arrive in the emergency room, coughing up a lung or bleeding profusely from a head wound, only to be informed that your wait will be approximately 28 hours.

    OK, I’m exaggerating, but that’s sure what it feels like. ER waits are out of control, and sitting in those little plastic chairs feeling most of the blood drain from your body and pool on the shiny linoleum floor, you can’t help but wonder, “”What’s the deal here? Why does this take so long?””

    There are myriad causes for these too-long waits; most Americans can agree that our health care system is fundamentally broken in a variety of ways. But in Arizona, one of the most pressing issues in health care is a massive nursing shortage.

    A 2008 study revealed that Arizona will need to gain almost 50,000 new registered nurses in the next nine years to hope to meet the state’s health care needs. The nursing shortage is a national issue, but is more pressing in Arizona because of the state’s explosive growth, as well as an aging nursing population on the verge of retirement.

    Arizona has about 681 registered nurses per 100,000 people. The national average is 825 nurses per 100,000 people.

    Nursing is the backbone of the nation’s health care system; without nurses, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes ð- you name it ð- would not be able to function properly. Nurses provide vital care to patients, as well as make it possible for doctors to do their jobs. A health care system without enough nurses simply would not function.

    According to a 2002 statement by the Arizona Nurses Association, “”A shortage of nurses is a public health and public policy issue.”” A nursing shortage contributes to health care issues such as higher complication and mortality rates, worse overall patient care, and higher health care costs. In short, the nursing shortage is worsening the already difficult situation in Arizona. As the ANA asserts, the shortage is “”dangerous to public health care.””

    The problem is not that people don’t want to be nurses. Quite the opposite, in fact. The stigma experienced by some current nurses, that nursing is what you do when you couldn’t get into medical school, is fading with the new crop of would-be nurses. Nursing offers abundant opportunities and competitive pay, as well as being a truly noble profession. Interest in careers in nursing is up everywhere, including Arizona.

    With so many people wanting to become nurses, it’s difficult to understand how Arizona’s nursing shortage is so extreme.

    Difficult to understand, until the crux of the problem presents itself: nursing education.

    It is difficult and expensive to train nurses. Many universities have neither the facilities nor the faculty to maintain a nursing school.

    But all three Arizona universities have nursing programs which are among the best in the nation.

    The sad truth is that all three nursing schools, but ASU and the UA’s in particular, have to turn away hundreds of excellent qualified applicants every year. As the shortage deepens, the nursing schools shrink. ASU’s nursing school accepted more than 25 percent fewer applicants (from 140 down to 100) last semester. The UA’s nursing school actually suspended accepting anyone for a whole semester. Passionate, intelligent, hardworking men and women are being turned away from careers in nursing left and right.

    It is this disconnect that is most disconcerting about the nursing shortage. The potential solution is there, willing and aching to heed the call. Yet, as a state, we cannot manage to educate and train these eager individuals to fill a dire need.

    Of course, it all comes down to budget. It’s impossible to overstate the extent to which major budget cuts to higher education will affect our state. But often, the arguments are hypothetical, full of rhetoric but lacking in concrete examples.

    Well, Arizona State Legislature, here’s your example. Budget cuts to universities are deepening a problem that has already reached crisis proportions. Health care quite simply cannot exist without nurses, and your drastic budget cuts are crippling the state’s ability to meet its own vital needs. You’re not shooting yourself in the foot; you’re going right for the heart.

    Heather Price-Wright is a creative writing and Latin American studies sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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