Student teacher ratios, attrition, all influence the nursing shortage

Published: Oct. 17, 2023 at 4:49 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - A study released by the American Association of Colleges or Nurses reports 78,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools nationwide.

The study pointed to the limitation of hospital preceptors--those who train nursing students in a hospital setting and the strict student ratios they must observe during supervised time.

Here in northern Nevada, the system is run a little differently.

Nursing faculty is placed in the hospital where there’s an eight to one ratio. Then an experienced nurse on the floor who also wants to instruct takes two students a piece to help care for patients.

“So not only do they have these nurses with their rich clinical experience and these great patients that are going along with it,” says Kimberly Baxter, Associate Dean of undergraduate programs at Orvis School of Nursing. “They have their faculty which also are able to support their development skills and who does the grading for them.”

Baxter says that’s just one aspect of nursing training that may give Nevada a slight leg up compared to other state programs.

In the 2023 legislature nursing grants were awarded. Orvis used the money to hire additional staff. That in turn meant accepting 96 nursing students per semester. That’s an increase. The spill over too means the program won’t take a huge hit when older instructors here retire.

The school, she says, won’t skip a beat as junior faculty take on senior roles.

“They are coming in with all these styles,” says Baxter. “They are really good with technology in a way that some of us oldsters will drag our feet a little bit.”

While all of this is encouraging for the nursing program and the students in it, in the bigger picture it all is not enough to solve the nursing shortage in our state.

Baxter says while they don’t have definitive numbers locally, nationwide we know 50% of new undergrads leave the nursing profession for other work.

And no one yet has a solution to that attrition problem.

As if to add insult to injury, an older more experienced nursing workforce has also left the profession. COVID only made the nursing shortage worse. That’s because veteran nurses left the profession in droves.

But what Baxter says she is most encouraged by, is the students who are in nursing school now, are still here and want to become nurses despite the tragedies of COVID.