With an alarming nursing shortage predicted in North Carolina in the coming years, the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s School of Nursing is already making strides to fill the gap.

According to NC Nursecast, a shortage of 20,000 nurses in the state could happen over the next decade–even beginning in the next few years.

The predicted shortage isn’t for lack of interest in a nursing career, says Debra Barksdale PhD, RN, FNP-BC, CNE, FAANP, ANEF, FAAN, and dean of UNC Greensboro’s School of Nursing. Instead, nurses are leaving the field in greater numbers leaving a gap in their wake that UNC Greensboro is paying particular attention to.

Interest in attending nursing school is high, she says, and even with students weeded out through prerequisites, rigor, or attrition, there are still more nursing students than the university can take. Factors hindering enrollment mirror what’s happening on a national level including a shortage of faculty and enough adequate and sufficient clinical sites to educate the nursing students, she says.

Even if enrolling 30 additional students doesn’t sound like a lot, Barksdale says it is. “Every nurse counts,” she says. The COVID-19 pandemic, while it has worn out many healthcare workers, is also highlighting the work nurses do every day. The high-level, complex medical care nurses provide with skill and compassion has been on full display for the past two years and has sparked a renewed interest that kind of meaningful and challenging work. “People have seen the combined art and science of nursing,” says Barksdale.

The university shares clinical sites with other institutions in the area and so building on and strengthening relationships with those partners will benefit both sides. As nursing students work on clinicals in the facilities, they are also building a workforce pipeline of qualified and well-trained nurses who are familiar with the organization and its patient population.

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And the nursing industry is also experiencing change in the way it is practiced. Technology, for instance, offers excellent tools for diagnostics and care. With simulation technology, student nurses can become adept at providing care and considering different outcomes before they even graduate.

“Students are more prepared,” says Barksdale. The experiences students have when learning a skill or when exercising clinical judgment and critical thinking to give the proper care are especially practical when performed in an environment like the simulated hospital suites or living quarters UNC Greensboro has. Student nurses are able to practice acute care and home care, says Barksdale. The university also has nursing simulation specialists who are able to help students debrief from the experience and add additional practical skills to the training.

Barksdale says looking at the faculty shortage requires a progressive perspective. There are ways to rethink academics to have the most efficient and high-quality educational experience, she says. There’s also new technology that can be implemented and that requires training and some getting used to. Faculty, for instance, need to learn about new approaches and stay current to offer students the most up-to-date training and knowledge. That takes time from their schedules as well.

And as the nursing industry changes, so too should the face of nursing. Barksdale says diversity in nursing is essential and must encompass more than race and ethnic diversity. It needs to include nurses of varying mobilities, so that nurses who use wheelchairs can find a place in the nursing field where they can also provide needed and critical care. Barksdale says fast tracking veterans and those who were military medics into nursing programs is another pathway to help with the nursing shortage while also tapping a highly qualified workforce.

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“I’m really excited to see nurses step up and take their place as leaders and innovators on the front lines,” says Barksdale. “I’m excited as the status of nurses has been elevated through the pandemic. Others recognize what nurses bring to the table, and nurses have a place at the table where they didn’t have one before.”

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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