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UNMC continues to address nursing shortage

March 4, 2017 GMT

It’s no secret there’s a shortage of nurses. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there is an estimated shortfall of 1.1 million nurses. Nebraska alone could face a shortage of about 4,000 nurses by 2020.

Dr. Lianne Connelly, assistant dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing-Northern Division in Norfolk, said there’s been a nursing shortage for a long time.

“There’s been a shortage of nurses all of my nursing career. It does wax and wane,” Connelly said. “If I look back in order to look forward, I would say I would expect that we will continue to have shortages. From the national perspective, they do expect shortages to continue in nursing for some time.”

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To address the issue, UNMC expanded its reach by opening the northern division facility in Norfolk a number of years ago.

“If you were to ask me what are we doing here to try to address the nursing shortage, I would say the fact we’re here. We’re grateful for that,” Connelly said. “We like to keep in touch with our clinical facilities so we know what’s going on with them and how we can help.”

The nursing college also hosts career fairs, summer camps and summer externships, Connelly said, to get students interested in nursing.

Keeping a pulse on the ongoing shortage is the Nebraska Center for Nursing. Connelly is the chairwoman of the organization.

The Center for Nursing — an entity of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services — was created by the Nebraska Legislature in 2000. Its main focus is to look at nursing supply and demand in the state, and to strategize on how to alleviate the shortage, Connelly said.

The center accomplishes that by collecting data through licensing renewal, she said.

“We find out some very interesting things about nursing in Nebraska that helps the profession and the state decide strategies, what to do,” Connelly said.

For example, in the preliminary results of the 2016 RN Outcome Results, based on renewal surveys, the average age of registered nurses was 43.4.

Ethnicity in nursing has stayed about the same over the past couple of years, with 93.7 percent of nurses being predominantly white/Caucasian, followed by 2.3 percent Hispanic, 1.6 percent black, 1.2 percent Asian, .8 percent other, .1 percent Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; and .2 percent American Indian/Alaska native.

As far as gender is concerned, 94 percent of nurses are females.

“I know the amount of men, the more men we have, the better off we are, just from a diversity standpoint,” Connelly said.

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The survey also includes data on where nurses are practicing, hours worked per week and the number of RNs per county.

In the 2014 edition of the survey, Madison County recorded 570 RNs. Surrounding counties recorded the following: Antelope, 61; Pierce, 60; Wayne, 58 and Stanton, 7.

In another study, Rural and Urban Nebraska Nurses: Age and per capita number of nurses, the age and number of nurses per 1,000 people in rural and urban areas of Nebraska between 2000 and 2014 was analyzed.

“When you look at the number of nurses per population, they’re a little bit younger in the metro area, a little bit older in the rural area. There’s fewer nurses in rural areas per thousand as there is in urban areas,” Connelly said. “You have individuals who are in the rural areas who probably are lifetime nurses, more than likely. But yet their service area, the per person, they are stretched a bit thin.”

Another important data point in the survey is how many nurses have bachelor of science degrees in nursing (BSN).

“The reason I’m interested in bachelor degrees is because there’s a nationwide Institute of Medicine Report that is calling for 80 percent BSNs by 2020 nationwide,” Connelly said. “And the reason for that is because our patients are sicker. There’s more complicated care. Medical centers are practically ICUs anymore, and you need to have a nice mix of individuals with bachelor degrees (and) associate degrees to deliver the care that’s needed.”

In the 2014 survey, 61 percent of nurses had their bachelor’s degree, according to the RN survey.

“I don’t know if we’ll make the 80 percent by 2020, but we’re getting it pretty close. I guess I’m optimistic,” Connelly said.

As a health care professional, Connelly said she is concerned about the shortage.

“It’s concerning to me as a health care professional when I see that among my professional peers, we are short,” she said. “And that means that nurses are working to take care of people and there’s not enough of us, wherever they work, community, hospital, wherever.”

But, Connelly said, she’s not at all concerned about the quality of care patients are receiving.

“And I will also tell you that facilities where we have clinical sites are fabulous facilities. They truly are,” Connelly said. “They are there for the patient. They are there to do what they need to do to take care of the patient. And frankly, they are evaluated against state and federal measures for quality.”

Because nurses are versatile and constantly evolving, they are more efficient.

“I certainly don’t want to communicate that there should be any worry for a person to go to a clinical facility. Those nurses they staff, they take care of their patients. They make sure that care is delivered,” Connelly said. “I can’t speak for a clinical setting, but I know as a nurse, that clinical facilities use technology to assist them in the fullest extent they can in providing care. There are tools out there that help nurses be more efficient.”