Glass half full: UT System report highlights increasing shortage of highly trained nurses, offers solutions

With 16 million individuals projected to gain health insurance by 2016 and an increasing shortage of master’s- and doctoral-level nurses in Texas and across the nation, significant challenges face an aging population that requires easy access to nursing and primary care. This is the subject of an update on current trends in nursing commissioned by The University of Texas System Office of Health Affairs.

Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the School of Nursing at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and president-elect for the American Association of Colleges and Nursing, will present an overview, “Nursing Workforce Issues, Shortages, Needs, Future Education, and Pathways,” to the UT System Board of Regents during a meeting in Austin on Wednesday.

Breslin identifies several factors that account for the looming nursing shortage: an aging nursing population with 50 percent of nurses close to retirement (average age 44 to 54); an aging general population; a lack of qualified faculty, clinical placements and funding for educating nurses; and millions of individuals with greater access to health insurance coverage. Texas is no exception, with the average age of nurses at 46. In addition, population growth in southern and western states indicates the shortage will be most intense in these regions.

The Bureau of Labor statistics predicts that by 2020, 712,000 to 1.2 million positions will be needed nationwide. With over 178,612 registered nurses in Texas, nursing is the state’s largest health care occupation (63 percent are employed in Texas hospitals; nationwide that number is 59 percent).

“With the economy recovering, more nurses will choose to retire from the profession. We need to prepare for these retirements,” Breslin said. “In particular, given the age of nursing faculty in Texas, we could be losing approximately half of our nursing faculty within the next 10 years, which will in turn affect the nursing pipeline.”

Breslin’s report lists four key recommendations by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to address the nursing shortage:

  • Achieve higher level of education and training through an improved system that promotes seamless academic nursing progress;
  • practice to the full extent of education and training;
  • full partnership with physicians in redesigning health care in the United States; and
  • improved information for better data collection.

Breslin notes that in response to these recommendations, the National Governors Association has called for an expanded scope of practice for nurse practitioners as a solution to meeting the nation’s primary care needs.

“Texas Team, a Robert Wood Johnson nursing action coalition inclusive of Texas Nurses Association and others, is working successfully within the state to address the IOM recommendations, including addressing scope of practice issues,” Breslin said. “Senator Jane Nelson’s Senate Bill 406 is an exemplar of their efforts to address regulatory concerns. Nurses have and will continue to play a role in meeting the needs of the underserved.”

“Nursing Workforce Issues, Shortages, Needs, Future Education, and Pathways,” is the first in a series of reports on health care workforce issues that the UT System Office of Health Affairs will review over the coming year.

Breslin holds the Patty L. Hawken Nursing Endowed Professorship and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She also is a Distinguished Practitioner in Nursing of the National Academies of Practice. Her most recent honors include the President’s Award from the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and the Sigma Theta Tau Image Maker Award.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2012 enrollment of roughly 216,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s health care professionals annually. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $13.9 billion (FY 2013) including $3.1 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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