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Stakeholders must collaborate to strengthen the nursing pipeline | Sean Burke


The healthcare industry needs creative solutions that focus on attracting more students into nursing.

By nature, nurses are kind, compassionate, and patient. They are helpers and healers. And they are pragmatic problem solvers.

Given all these attributes, nurses are the most trusted profession in America for the 20th year in a row—which is why we should believe them when they say they need help.

Right now, nurses are being asked to take on more and more simply because there are not enough nurses to help lighten the load. The severe national nurse shortage facing our country today is a crisis that demands long-term solutions.

When I think about resolving the challenges we face, I recall the quote, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now." Our nation’s leaders must collaborate and adopt creative solutions that focus on more than just the needs of licensed nurses but also on attracting more students into nursing in the first place.

As an education technology company partnering with 60% of nursing programs in the U.S., we closely track trends in nursing education and the workforce pipeline. We feel compelled to highlight the serious need to get more students into the nursing field. It’s time decision-makers at all levels pay attention too.

To help solve the nursing workforce crisis, we must first ensure our students are better prepared, supported, and incentivized to succeed. This requires investing in academic support earlier in a student’s education so they can graduate with the proper skillset to become a practice-ready nurse, and giving educators the resources they need to help their students along the way.

By widening, diversifying, and strengthening the pipeline, we can better meet the healthcare needs of people across the nation, like my young daughter, my aging parents, and my sister with special needs.

While nursing is a rewarding and noble profession, the path to get there is extremely challenging. Many have long misperceived that nursing—and nursing education—is easier than it is.

Nursing requires years of specialized education and mastery of critical thinking and clinical judgment. Developing these necessary skills depends on a student’s ability to retain, understand, and apply knowledge from every pre-requisite and nursing course. This can be daunting, but this knowledge is essential in order to pass the required exam to become a licensed nurse and provide safe patient care — especially when upcoming changes to the exam will heighten the emphasis on clinical judgment.

We have our work cut out for us: disruptions caused by COVID-19 to schooling have caused reading and math scores to drop to their lowest level in decades, suggesting educators must do more to prepare students to enter higher education.

The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) underscores the academic preparedness gaps nurse educators struggle to address as they train the graduates coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. This lack of academic preparedness, exacerbated by the pandemic, affects the nursing pipeline as well.

recent survey from ATI Nursing Education of nearly 4,000 prospective nursing students found that a lack of academic preparedness was the top reason students cited for delaying or foregoing nursing school. Yet, most of these same students said the COVID-19 pandemic made them more interested in pursuing a nursing career. It is a travesty to know that so many students want to serve society as a nurse yet lack the support to pursue their career dreams.

At the same time, there is a major nurse educator shortage. Across the country, nearly one-in-ten nurse faculty positions are vacant, making it even harder for current educators to address these challenges.

What can be done to save the nation’s nursing pipeline and get the hundreds of thousands of new nurses needed in the workforce?

1. The provider and education communities must partner to get more nurses trained. We’ve already seen some hospitals and healthcare systems take initiative by partnering with schools for on-campus training, financial and support incentives, and career pathways. With more collaboration between providers and students, we’ll set up our nursing students for success.

2. Simultaneously, policymakers must provide adequate funding and support to bring in more nursing students. We’ve already seen states like Oklahoma and Florida approve millions of dollars in funding to bolster nursing schools, while states like Indiana have helped strengthen the capacity of nursing programs to admit and train more students. These investments can help bridge gaps by providing better access to education technology that improves learning outcomes, helps students master clinical judgment and critical thinking skills, and produces more practice-ready nurses. Federal policymakers should follow their lead.

3. Finally, we must also ensure our nurse educators are prepared, supported, and incentivized to succeed. All nurses—especially nurse educators—deserve to be compensated commensurate with the value they provide to society. Doing so will encourage more professionals to take up teaching positions, a critical need given that over 60% of nursing programs have vacancies for educators.

Nurses have been – and always will be – a vital part of a thriving healthcare sector. But to compete and succeed as a nation, we must work together to implement policies that champion and bolster this noble, critical profession. The health of our country depends on it.

Sean Burke is president of the healthcare division of Ascend Learning and ATI Nursing Education

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