Nebraska doesn't have enough nurses, but right now some nurses can't find work. That shortage is expected to get worse, but some who want to be nurses in the future can't get into nursing schools. Mike Tobias examines an issue that is complicated, and concerning for the state's medical community in this radio Signature Story. Below is more of his interview on the nursing shortage with Diana Baker, executive director of the Nebraska Center for Nursing.
DIANA BAKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEBRASKA CENTER FOR NURSING : There is a problem as far as getting enough nurses involved because we are losing a lot of nurses through the baby boomer issue that is prevalent in every industry. There are more people retiring from nursing than there are coming into nursing so there's the discrepancy and the gap of supply and demand.
MIKE TOBIAS, NET NEWS: How severe is the problem?
BAKER: It is far reaching. Right now there's the possibility that someone would say there is no nursing shortage because many of our RN graduates that just graduated from programs are not finding jobs, but that is an indication of the economy within the health facilities themselves where they're not hiring the people because of their economic structure. In the rural areas and the frontier areas they're having more trouble but many of the students that just graduated want to stay in the bigger medical centers and not in the smaller towns where they may only have a nursing home or a clinic.
TOBIAS: Talk about the areas most impacted.
BAKER: Nursing homes I think. People are not necessarily interested in nursing homes, especially when they're brand new out of school. They want to have the thrill and excitement of the emergency or the intensive care unit and nursing home is really just the home of residents that can't take care of themselves anymore and so it's not as challenging, it's not as exciting for some of the new students. I think it takes a very special kind of person to work in a nursing home and they have to really love the elderly and love what they do.
TOBIAS: We've talked about there being a nursing shortage for a number of years. How is it different now than it maybe was a decade or two ago?
BAKER: I've gone through a lot of nursing shortages in my period of practicing as a nurse and this is probably the most far reaching. It's been the longest in 50 years that there is just not enough nurses to go around. We may have enough nurses in the urban areas, but the rural areas and frontier areas really suffer because many people don't want to go to those areas.
TOBIAS: Why now? What's different now than maybe 20 years ago?
BAKER: I think it's the structure of the availability of people. Nursing is very hard work and women are now accepted in other professions much more readily than when I went to school. Women are looking at becoming computer specialists or engineers and not looking at nursing as a profession, where women in my age bracket were more looking at being a nurse or being a teacher so that has created a shortage on the beginning end of it and now we're also in the baby boomer era where those people my age and older are starting to retire at exorbitant numbers and so we're seeing shortages on each end with people retiring and then at the beginning of not wanting to go into nursing.
TOBIAS: Beyond the statistics, when it gets down to an area that can't hire the number of nurses needed or the level of nurses needed, what's the impact to people?
BAKER: Many of them don't get the care that they're requiring because the care is not available to them. You see a lot of elderly people in the home that don't have adequate diets, they don't have money for medications, there's not a helper there to help them plan their care so those types of things would very much inflict some hardships on them. Young mothers with new babies may not be able to get the nutrition that they need during pregnancy. They may not get the education they need for child rearing when there's shortages like this.
TOBIAS: How are places doing that can't hire a nurse?
BAKER: Well, they use a lot of unlicensed assistive people. For example, the medication aide is an unlicensed person that can help pass medications and leave the nurse available for other, more complex things. Nurse's aides can do physical care; address the aides to daily living, making sure they're clean and fed and toileted and so forth, so those unlicensed people do assist the nurse a great deal.
TOBIAS: Why, then, do you believe it would be better to have a nurse?
BAKER: Because of the education of the nurse and the knowledge that he or she brings to the profession to impart on patients.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nebraska Center for Nursing's 2010 Annual Report
Nebraska Nurses Association
UNMC College of Nursing