US nurse training shortage deepens

January 17, 2003

A critical shortage of nurses in the US is getting worse despite huge demand and high starting salaries because nursing schools lack the faculty and other resources to train them.

An estimated 6,000 qualified applicants had to be turned away by nursing schools last year, according to the latest figures. The problem has become so great that hospitals are promising millions to nursing schools to hire more faculty.

But the snag is the salaries that nurses can make in hospitals, which are an average $24,000 a year (£15,000) more than they could earn teaching at universities. Starting salaries for nurses in some parts of the US exceed $60,000.

All of this is contributing to a shortage that is expected to lead to an unmet demand for 800,000 nurses across the country by 2020, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While the federal government passed the Nursing Reinvestment Act, which promised to expand scholarships for student nurses and grants for nursing schools and to pay off tuition loans for nurses who train to become teachers, it has yet to commit any funding.

The hospitals are so desperate for nurses that they are taking matters into their own hands and throwing money at nursing schools to expand. The private Cleveland Clinic Health System is underwriting the cost of a fast-track nursing degree programme at Cleveland State University in Ohio. North Carolina Baptist Hospital is pouring money into Winston-Salem State University to hire more faculty. And five hospitals and healthcare agencies have promised nearly $2 million to the University of Alaska to double the number of nursing graduates.

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