Finding Nurses for the Future

The number of licensed RNs in Florida was 176,113as of June 2002. That number can be deceiving, however, as not all licensed RNs are practicing in healthcare. In any case, Florida’s RN supply has not kept pace with its aging population, which has the highest percentage of elderly in the nation. U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration projections show Florida will need 34,000 additional nurses by 2006.

Current initiatives to address the national nursing shortage include a myriad of strategies. Hospitals across the country are recruiting nurses from other countries, the most targeted being the Philippines and Canada. Financial compensation, including relocation and sign on bonuses, are the most common incentives. Programs like Johnson & Johnson’s Discover Nursing,and Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow, coordinated by Sigma Theta Tau International, are two media approaches designed to recruit new nurses, as well as encourage existing nurses to remain in the profession.

The shortage has become a priority, and federal and state legislators have implemented programs aimed at increasing the number of nurses. Health ca reorganizations are also playing a part in their communities by offering financial support to nursing students, usually in exchange for an agreement to work within the organization for a period of time following graduation.

Acting Locally
As part of the Foundation Scholars Program at Winter Haven Hospital, 10students currently are receiving comprehensive support for tuition and expenses in their nursing education. The program was established by the Mid-Florida Medical Services Foundation, and provides a permanent endowment to help students in their studies to become registered nurses, licensed practical nurses or radiology technologists.

“The foundation’s primary goal and vision is to acquire philanthropic resources to take Mid-Florida Medical Services and Winter Haven Hospital to the next level of excellence,” stated Joel Thomas, the foundation’s executive director. “The Foundation Scholars project is a great way for friends of our organization to get involved, make a meaningful investment in our health service organization’s mission, and assure quality healthcare will be available when we need it.”

“One of the primary causes of the current national nursing shortage is there are a lot more career options out there for women today,” said Mary Jo Schreiber, MSN, RN, CCRN, vice president of patient care services at Winter Haven Hospital and an RN for 38 years. “Nursing is very hard work, it’s hard physically and it’s sometimes hard emotionally. But it is also a very rewarding career in many ways.

“Due to the new societal demand for nurses, they are now being rewarded more appropriately for their talent and skill, with 2-year RNs starting around$40,000 annually,” she continued. “With programs like this, we think we’re attracting not only more nurses, but more quality nurses as well.”

Program’s Foundation
In December 2002, a planning committee met and developed a packet of materials including application forms, a cover letter explaining the program and a promissory note the applicants signed verifying they would work for the hospital for 1 year for every year of assistance granted.

Initially, about 30 people expressed interest because they heard about it from employees or people at their school. After information about the program appeared on television, the number of people requesting applications quadrupled in 3 days. Though hospital staff sent out more than 100application packets, only 47 were returned by the deadline day.

Applicants were told that if they drop out of the program, they are required to pay “the loan” back.

For the LPN program, which is 11 months, financial assistance is provided for the year. For the 2-year nursing program at Polk Community College,applicants are required to apply for assistance in the first year, and reapply for the second year. A selection committee reviewed the various applications and made a determination as to who would receive money, and how much.

Success Story
Herminia “Mimi” Jaime, a full-time environmental services receptionist at Winter Haven Hospital, is one of the scholarship program recipients. A practical nursing student, she graduates in December 2003.

“It gave me an opportunity I otherwise would not have had,” Jaime said. “I would not have been able to go any further because of my financial situation.”

Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Jaime loves to be around people, is married and has three children. She soon will be transferring from environmental services to work as a nursing assistant on one of Winter Haven Hospital’s nursing units while attending school, and she is looking forward to a career in healthcare.

National Issue
National data illustrate the course of the shortage if current trends hold .According to a July 2002 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the nursing shortage is projected to intensify over the next2 decades, with 44 states plus the District of Columbia expected to have RN shortages by the year 2020. The total population of registered nurses is growing at the slowest rate in 20 years.

The number of first-time, United States-educated nursing school graduates who sat for the NCLEX-RN�®, the national licensure examination for registered nurses, decreased by 31.3 percent between 1995 and 2002, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

A fall 2002 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)shows enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing increased by 8 percent nationwide since fall 2001, but enrollment is still down by almost 10 percent from 1995 levels.

A shortage of nursing school faculty is restricting nursing program enrollments. Another survey by AACN, “2000-2001 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing,” states more than 38.8percent of schools that responded pointed to faculty shortages as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants into entry-level baccalaureate programs.

Florida Programs
The Florida Nursing Shortage Solutions Act, passed during the 2002legislative session, amended provisions on loan repayment under the Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program, allowing up to $4,000 per year for 4years. As part of the Nursing Scholarship Program, associate degree student scan participate and be granted up to $8,000 per year for 2 years. RNs seeking faculty graduate degree or nurse practitioner status may receive up to $12,000 per year.

Orange County has established a housing assistance program to recruit nurses to the county. Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nurse’s aides,emergency medical technicians and others will be eligible for up to $7,500in down payment assistance toward the purchase of a home.

Federal Funding
Leaders from nursing organizations nationwide are working together to ensure safe, quality nursing care, and a sufficient supply of registered nurses to deliver that care. As part of the 2003 federal budget, $20 million in new funding was approved for nurse education programs, including the Nurse Reinvestment Act of 2002. The law authorizes scholarships and loan repayments for nursing students who agree to work in shortage areas after they graduate. In addition, the act calls for public service announcements to promote nursing as a career, loan cancellations for nursing faculty,grants for geriatric nurse education and grants to encourage nursing best practices.

AACN has endorsed two recently introduced bills that will increase education loan opportunities and loan forgiveness for nursing students. The Teacher and Nurse Support Act of 2003 would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965to increase nursing education loan opportunities within the Department of Education, and the Nurse Loan Forgiveness Act of 2003 would establish student loan forgiveness program for nurses.

Similar Initiatives
The Winter Haven scholarship program is comparable to initiatives turning up across the country to address the nursing shortage. For instance, the Cooper Health System in Camden, NJ, announced in February that beginning in the fall semester, 40 students already in the Camden nursing program at Rutgers University will receive financial assistance as a result of a new partnership between the Cooper Health System and Rutgers. The recipient swill become professional nurses within the Cooper Health System upon graduation.

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and its American Education Services division have established a $13.3 million nursing loan forgiveness program in partnership with hospitals and other employers. The program is designed to increase enrollment in the state’s undergraduate and graduate nursing programs. Participants must graduate from an approved nursing education program and work after graduation as a direct care nurse or nurse educator for a minimum of 1 year.

Nursing in the Spotlight
By now, most people know that doctors and allied healthcare workers, with modern technology and great facilities, really are nothing without highly skilled and qualified nurses. Action by government entities and private organizations aims to keep an adequate number of nurses available now and in the future.

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