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A Conversation With … Charlotte Gray on nursing shortages

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted demand for nurses will grow from 2.75 million in 2014 to 3.45 million in 2024. Why such a great need?
We are just now tipping the iceberg, we are barely seeing the start of the baby boomers. It’s not just in the Springfield area, but across the United States. Also, look at what’s happening in health care. A physician doesn’t really need to see somebody with a cold. We really need the doctor to use their education for more complex patients. Nurse practitioners, there is a huge shortage there. There are more people coming into health care, and there is a shift. The nurses have more responsibility than they had before.

Is there a solution?
Yeah, more nurses. Every state is governed by a board of nursing. What’s happened is a lot of those schools are going to the boards and asking to be able to do higher enrollment. When you have a licensure program, I can’t just accept more students. I have to ask for permission even though we are a private school. It seems strange you would have to do that, but that’s the rule. Sometimes, that control stifles a little bit of growth, but they have to manage it because there is a lot to admitting someone in a health care program. There are background screenings and the material is pretty tough.

The board of nursing approved us for an additional group of students. So, every fall semester with the (registered nurse) program, we can add another 31 students. Then you have faculty issues and clinical facilities. You can’t just add more seats; it’s a huge load on the school.

What does it take to add those seats?
Part of that is we had to plan a couple years out to say this fall we want to double the RN students. We had to make a proposal to the state board, hire the faculty and have them trained, get into the new facility so we could physically accommodate those students and we had to have additional equipment. Plus, we had to go to clinical sites and get more locations for students to go. It’s very expensive and there is a lot of commitment up front to add more students. Now, every year we can take 93 nursing students – one (licensed practical nurse) and two RN classes.

What was the cost of adding the program?
I’d estimate it’s at least $200,000 up front just to accommodate that. That’s a minimum. If we could add more we would, but you start to deal with things like faculty issues. I think we will probably go back a couple years down the road and ask for more again, but it’s not in the plan right now.

The college currently is hiring instructors. Is there a shortage there, too?
In general, there is a shortage. These people are nurses first, then they go back and get their degrees in education. You need to be a nurse, an educator and have a higher degree, so it’s tough to get.
 
Is the new RN class full?
Our classes are full, and we have people on a waiting list. Even Cox and Mercy are full to capacity and have people waiting. We are graduating about 60 nurses a year.

Can the education industry keep up with the demand?
Yes, because I don’t think we have any choice but to do that. You have the state board, then all of your accrediting agencies that take time, and the schools are aware of that. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a major ordeal to add on. It’s just planning ahead. We are already working two to three more years out.

Charlotte Gray is president of Bolivar Technical College. She can be reached at cgray@texascountytech.edu.

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