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Slow pace of nursing education threatens patient care

Posted Feb 22 2010 12:40pm

By Nita Kasan - Guest blogger
Chief Nursing Officer, The College Network 

You might assume that prolonged high unemployment would ultimately resolve the nursing shortage in the U.S., as out-of-work individuals fill all the available slots. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

The good news is that more nurses are earning Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees, as more hospitals are seeking Magnet status, and in advance of new regulation. Eighteen states are considering legislation that would require nurses to return to school to earn a bachelor’s degree within 10 years of receiving an associate degree. This is a worthy objective, as studies have shown that nurses with a higher level of education improve patient outcomes.

The bad news is that the nursing education system is completely clogged, with wait lists at some programs of several years or longer. Traditional nursing schools are often unable to add additional classes because of the difficulty in hiring experienced nurse educators, who can usually earn more money providing direct patient care than teaching the next generation of nurses. 

We need to have a serious discussion about how we can relieve the bottleneck in nursing education. Mandating that nurses earn bachelor’s degrees without increasing the available bandwidth for nursing education is a prescription for failure. We also need to recognize that many nurses are not able to quit working for two or four years to pursue a degree. Remember, many female nurses are now their households’ primary breadwinners!   

For instance, Diane Bustos is a licensed vocational nurse in California. She’s also a mother of eight and the primary provider for her family. Diane works two jobs in home care nursing, averaging 64 hours per week. She needs to keep working, but doesn’t have time to sit in a classroom. So Diane began taking courses towards her bachelor’s degree online. “One of my lifelong dreams is to be an RN. I want to be able to provide more for my children and help them go to college,” says Bustos.

We need to support nurses like Diane by making it easier for them to work and earn a degree at the same time.

I joined The College Network because I believe online education can play a greater role in solving the nursing education bottleneck. But it’s only part of the solution. What suggestions do you have?

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