Shortage of nurses spurs innovation in nursing education

( Here is a sobering fact — registered nurses are aging out of the work force. Right now there are more nurses in their 50s than any other age group. The recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act means that 32 million more Americans will have access to healthcare services, including the type of care provided by registered nurses. Considering that RNs are widely acknowledged as the backbone of thehealthcare delivery system, a nursing shortage is cause for alarm.

RNs staff hospitals, doctors offices, schools, senior care facilities and perform a vast array of service from educating the public about everything from eating disorders and diet to diseases prevention. To meet increasing community health needs, many RNs opt to specialize, receiving advanced degrees that put them on the front line in delivering patient care.

Even though there seems to be no argument that more nurses are needed, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that in 2010 over 67,000 qualified nursing school applicants were turned away. Why? Because of an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, and budget constraints schools cannot keep up with the demand for slots in nursing programs. However, there are some community colleges that are meeting this challenge, and finding innovative ways to train a new corps of nurses.

Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and Hilda Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor, recently embarked on a three-day “Community College to Career” bus tour. Their mission: to draw focus to the unique role community colleges have in building the kind of highly skilled and flexible workforce that is need to meet 21st century demands, especially in fields like health care.

One of their first stops was the Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Ohio. Cincinnati State has pioneered a partnership with local hospitals, the Southwest Ohio Region Workforce Investment Board and several local nonprofits to create a program that is looked upon as a national model. The basic idea is to start by ‘training up’ local workers for entry-level positions like medical assistants or coders, then provide the support for these ‘incumbent workers’ to seek additional training, including enrolling in nursing programs. An important component in the program’s success it that Cincinnati State and the participating partners agree to provide entry level workers with the flexibility, support and coaching they needed to continue their education.

The success of the Cincinnati State collaboration is reflected in a $19.5 million dollar grant from the Department of Labor to roll out the program nationally, and the project has been cited as one of the 14 best collaborations between workforce boards and employers by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Both Biden and Solis gave an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’ and expressed their support.

A professor at a Washington, D.C. area community college, Dr. Biden is a passionate advocate for these institutions and the diverse student population that they serve. As for Secretary Solis, in 1985 she was elected to the Rio Hondo Community College Boardof Trustees, and in her current role has signaled strong support for two-year college programs.

With the endorsement of these two Washington heavyweights, the Cincinnati State program could be the catalyst to help solve the shortage of nurses here in the U.S.