BALTIMORE – Hospitals are facing a shortage of nurses across the country and experts say the problem may get worse before it gets better.
While hospitals struggle to provide care, nursing schools are struggling too because they don’t have enough educators.
Universities nationwide are seeing an increase in potential nursing student applications but they can’t keep up with the demand.
Stephania Long is a fourth-year nursing student at Notre Dame of Maryland University and says she has always wanted to be a nurse.
"I decided on nursing because I really want to help people, I really want to care for them, and I think nursing is the best opportunity to do that," Long said.
"When I saw how selfless the nurses were who worked through the pandemic ... they were risking their own lives to take care of people and it made me want to give back to them. So when they get older its somebody else that can take over for them," Long said.
A changed environment
Long and her classmates say their learning environment has changed significantly since the pandemic hit, but they are still ready to join the field.
"It made me actually work harder because I was like I have to do this for the nurses who sacrificed a lot to take care of people in the middle of a pandemic," Long said
Francesca Circosta is also a senior in the nursing program at Notre Dame of Maryland. Circosta says the pandemic has made her realize how grateful she was for the learning experience she received before Covid hit.
"Covid has made us really grateful for what life was like before the pandemic. We took this for granted. Sitting in a classroom with a teacher, being able to talk to our professors everyday face to face, and that all changed when the pandemic hit," Circosta said.
While Long and Circosta work to complete their nursing degrees thousands of qualified nursing student applications are getting turned away because there’s not enough teachers.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) more than 80,000 qualified applications from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs were turned away nationwide during 2019-2020.
Katelyn Barley is an assistant professor of nursing at Notre Dame of Maryland and teaches senior level nursing students.
Barley says hands on learning is critical for students, "they do need the in person and hands on skills, absolutely. For the students that graduated during the pandemic and maybe had that cut short, they had experiences in the hospital during their orientation to help get them to where they needed to be."
However, Barley says the problem doesn’t stop there because they need more qualified nursing educators to produce nurses.
"We need nurses all of the time to staff our hospitals but when we’re talking about a pandemic and more patients than we have resources the need for nurses really increases," Barley said.
The nursing shortage is caused by a ripple effect across the entire health care system and it starts with education, she added.
"We see that units are shut down, that some beds are not staffed because we don’t have enough, if you need and elective surgery you may be waiting longer, if you do have and emergency you may be stuck in the emergency room, so it really does effect people at home probably more than they think," Barley said.
Kathleen Wisser is the school-of-nursing dean at the Notre Dame of Maryland, and says they are working to attract nurse educators.
"Come back for a masters, come back for a doctorate, and become a nurse educator so we can continue the quality education," Wisser said.
Wisser says the biggest difficult is finding educators for in person learning like clinical courses.
"A clinical course is 90 hours and so that’s a great deal of face to face in person experiences within the hospital setting. We’re finding some difficulty with those clinical sites making sure our students have some hands-on experience – and again this is not just the program here at Notre dame its everywhere across the nation," Wisser said.
While the healthcare system works to keep up Barley says patient care will suffer if schools can’t produce enough new nurses.
"With more nurses retiring their will not be enough people to care for patients in the hospital," Barley said.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 500,000 registered nurses will retire next year. Furthermore, more than 1 million new nurses are needed to offset the shortage that continues to grow.