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Nursing shortage continues across nation

Nurse practitioner Brooke Caldwell adjusts the scales in an exam room in Cedar Ridge Hospital in Oklahoma City. Caldwell is self-employed and contracts with hospitals to provide primary care in an inpatient setting, mostly working with mental health patients. PHOTO/MARK HANCOCK

Oklahoma City-based nurse practitioner Brooke Caldwell has experienced many settings of nursing over her 18-year career.

Caldwell worked as a nurse technician while earning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Oklahoma. Upon graduation, she worked as a registered nurse with Mercy Hospital. She worked in oncology, emergency room and orthopedic medical surgery before taking on a supervisory role, which is when she decided to return to school to pursue a master’s degree and become a nurse practitioner.

“As a supervisor, I was managing nursing, staffing and assisting where I could when nurses were overwhelmed. It was at that point that I felt if nurses had more support from a provider, their job would go a little easier,” Caldwell said. “When I decided to go back to nurse practitioner school, I swore I would be the provider that wouldn’t complain when nurses called me, and I would educate them. I wanted to find a way to make it easier on nurses because they have to do a lot. I also wanted back on the floor with the patients.”

Research shows a continued shortage in the nursing profession.

The 2017 Nursing Trends and Salary Survey, published in American Nurse Today, reported that 53 percent of nursing managers said they had an increase in open positions in the past 12 months, and 60 percent of managers said recruiting RNs in the past 12 months had been difficult.

“There’s such an incredible need for nurses; it’s almost a little overwhelming,” said Dr. Ronda Hughes, director of the Center for Nursing Leadership at the University of South Carolina. “I work with a lot of hospitals, so I am well-aware of their vacancies, but nursing is not just a job in hospitals. There are jobs in clinics. Insurance companies have really picked up on the advantage of having a large nursing workforce. We also see nurses in skilled nursing facilities such as nursing homes and rehab facilities. No matter where you look in health care, you will find a nurse.”

The need for nurses, as well as the variety of job settings available to nurses, translates to strong job opportunity at all levels.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

“We are in a crisis in our country where we have really sick people, people who didn’t take care of themselves for a long time and now are struggling with obesity and other issues,” Caldwell said, adding: “There’s going to continue to be a need for nurses, and there’s going to probably continue to be a nurse shortage, because the longer people live, the more health problems they have.”

Meanwhile, there are concerns about the number of teachers available to train the future workforce.

“Just as we have a shortage of nurses, we also have a shortage of nursing faculty,” Hughes said. “A lot of nursing faculty are getting older. Also, people tend to go into faculty roles after clinical practice, so we usually have an older workforce in schools of nursing to begin with.”

Hughes is passionate about her role as an educator, citing the many diverse avenues that academia affords nurse educators, as well as influencing the profession through the training of new nurses.

“You can really inspire and teach the next generation of nursing, which is a challenge right now with about five generations in the nursing workforce. Traditional ways of teaching have changed for the younger generations,” she said.

Caldwell, who is now self-employed and contracts with hospitals to provide primary care in an inpatient setting, sees teaching in her future. She also works one day a week in a family practice clinic.

“My passion is family practice and teaching. I would like to teach because when I work with nurses side-by-side, there’s a lot of animosity towards each other. There’s a need for more nurse education on time management, critical thinking, how to make situations better and not just automatically think that somebody did something intentionally. Nurses also need to have better education for the setting they’re in,” she said.

Despite the tough demands, most nurses feel job satisfaction. The 2017 Nursing Trends and Salary Survey reported that 87.2 percent of nearly 6,000 respondents said they would still become a nurse, despite 62 percent reporting a workload increase in the past year.

“It’s not a job just to have a job; it’s a job that can really make such a difference for individuals as well as families,” Hughes said. “You can’t say that about a lot of jobs.”

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