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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA on front lines of nursing shortage

    At 628 nurses for every 100,000 people, Arizona ranked last in the nation for working RNs per capita.

    When you are in the hospital, the call button is your only connection to the outside world, comfort and medicine. But after waiting 20 minutes to get a flustered nurse to hand you pills and run back out the door, you realize one thing: You’ve just seen firsthand one of the fastest-growing problems in the U.S. health-care system – a staggering nursing shortage.

    There are 1 billion doctor’s visits each year in the U.S., and fewer nurses mean longer wait times in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices. The shortage also forces nurses to work mandatory overtime shifts, and in a profession that requires mental acuity at all times, pushing a nurse too hard is unsafe.

    A 2001 Harvard-Vanderbilt study confirmed a connection between a lack of nurses and complications such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, gastrointestinal bleeding and longer hospital stays. Conversely, in hospitals with larger nursing staffs, there was up to a 25 percent reduction in certain adverse outcomes.

    The old adage is that generals win battles and sergeants win wars. The same can be said of nurses, the sergeants of the hospital. Although there are hospital administrators, doctors and directors, nurses run the show. They are the pulse of a hospital, and that pulse is getting weaker.

    The nursing shortage is hitting critical levels. In 2002, more than 30 states reported shortages of registered nurses. At 628 nurses for every 100,000 people, Arizona ranked last in the nation for working RNs per capita. However, the following year, 756 prospective nurses were turned away from Arizona nursing programs because of a lack of resources and faculty, according to the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.

    But the College of Nursing is adamant about changing that. It has instituted plans to create larger nursing classes to combat the nursing shortage. Additionally, the college recently increased the size of its accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program – a program for students who have already received bachelor’s degrees – to 164 people, up from 100.

    The program is rare in that it has partnerships with three medical centers in Tucson that pay for nurses’ educations. After graduation, nurses work for two years at their sponsor facilities. While other nursing schools have limited connections with medical centers, the experience provided by a strong symbiotic relationship between college and industry is nearly unique to the UA.

    The college has also focused on increasing accessibility to its Ph.D. program, the program responsible for creating faculty to teach future nurses, by creating a nearly exclusively online program. Since one component of the nursing shortage is a critical dearth of teachers, increasing the number of Ph.D. students will, in the long term, increase the number of RNs the college can produce.

    The College of Nursing has set the standard for solutions to a seemingly endless problem. Its programs are innovative and are directly reducing the nursing shortage. Projections see the problem getting worse before it gets better, but the UA’s example can change the tide.

    Mike Morefield is a political science senior and owes his life to the kindness of nurses. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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