1. Section Editor(s): Carroll, V. Susan

Article Content

We all recently celebrated Nurses' Week during which we were recognized by our peers, employers, patients, and families for the unique work we do and the care we provide, as well as for our professional accomplishments. For several days, the healthcare spotlight shone on us. Now, however, we are again coping with the day-to-day realities and trends that face nursing in 2009-staffing shortages, changing patient and caregiver demographics, continued nurse turnover and the vacancies it creates, slow growth in schools of nursing, and debate about ways to reward both individual and institutional quality performance.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

These trends are bound together by a common thread, a growing shortage of registered nurses. Although projections vary, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 1,000,000 new nurses will be needed by 2016. Demand for nurses is expected to grow by 2%-3% annually, even in a recessionary economic climate. Although the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported a more than 5% enrollment increase in entry-level programs in 2007, their data were tempered by reports that nearly 41,000 qualified applicants were turned away from both undergraduate and graduate programs because of insufficient numbers of faculty, preceptors, clinical sites, classroom space, and money. Limited enrollment slows the growth of the nation's nurse population and underscores the climbing age of the typical U.S. nurse.


So much for gloom and doom[horizontal ellipsis]what part can we play in solving this problem? Each of us can support local, statewide, and federal initiatives underway to address the challenges facing the nursing workforce. For example, Tennessee state health officials launched a campaign to fund a scholarship program that will help nurses earn graduate degrees; Illinois offers a program to support faculty fellowships. Contact your state and federal legislators-make your voice heard.


Many nursing colleges and universities have formed partnerships with healthcare businesses, hospitals, and community agencies to expand their clinical teaching faculties and practicum sites. In the past 2 years, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and the state of Florida itself donated over $1,000,000 to state universities to address critical issues in nursing education. Many hospitals have begun collaborating with schools of nursing to subsidize nurse faculty salaries; many also provide both increased tuition support and flexible scheduling to allow nurses to continue learning. Are these options available in your region of the country or your workplace? Think about taking advantage of them. If you precept "new" nurses as a routine part of your role and find it rewarding, you may have the talent it takes to teach. If you wish you could "mold" students as they learn and share the passion you have for nursing, think about teaching.


Not sure you are ready for this step? Then, encourage your institution's leaders to support clinical practica across the acuity spectrum. Show students that nurses make a difference in others' lives; that we matter; and that, although we work hard physically, mentally, and emotionally, it is worth it at the end of the day. Let the students "walk in your moccasins"-this is particularly important for us as neuroscience nurses because our patient populations are often perceived by students as "difficult, not fun to care for, never getting better." Inspire them, show them all the really cutting-edge, "cool" technology we use every day, and let them see how much we know and how we use that knowledge.


Talk about nursing in your community. Touch base with others at local high school and college career days, at soccer games, and at church. Although today's economy underscores the relative safety of nursing as a lifelong career with many opportunities for growth, we still need to talk about what we do and encourage others to choose the path we have chosen. None of us can solve the nursing shortage single-handedly. It will require a professional community, but each of us can play a role-write your own script and become a star.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.