By now, most of us within the health care sector have already become well-acquainted with the impending and grim statistics facing the United States, mainly in regards to the staggering dearth in our nursing profession purportedly by the year 2014. There are a number of factors attributing to this predicament, namely an aging elderly population (baby boomers), consistently low enrollments at nursing schools across the country, and job burnout and dissatisfaction, which ironically raises the average nurse age to 45.2 years. And though these facts paint a dreary picture of our nation’s future, there may be a silver lining. Perhaps, the answer has been sitting right in front of us all along. By looking at the future of health care with a different lens, we can not only fill the gap but create higher quality in a system that has been steadily declining.

Veterans. President Obama has already challenged our nation to hire Iraq War vets by inviting Community Health Centers to employ 8,000 veterans—approximately one veteran per health center site—over the next few years. In addition to this proclamation, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has offered to create careers for servicemen that will even rise above nursing and into the realm of physician assistants. Of course, although these numbers are encouraging, they will fall short to fill in the expected tens of thousands of jobs needed, but at least it is a start.

Minorities. Of the 3,063,162 registered nurses in the United States, approximately 83% are Caucasian.1 This means of course that within the remaining 17% the numbers consist of those who are African American, Asian Pacific-Islander, Hispanic, and/or of mixed race. Based upon the recent 2010 US Census, Caucasians are at 72.4%, African Americans 12.6%, Asian 4.8%, Native American 0.2%, and 2.9% who claim multiple ethnicities.2 So when looking at the numbers based on ethnicity across the United States, the results speak loud and clear: minorities need to be a stronger presence in health care as a way to not only gain numbers in the field, but also to reach out to communities that are currently woefully underserved. According to the HRSA, a Division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, of the patients who use health centers, 62% are described as ethnic or non-white and of those, 23% do not speak English.3 This is where minority graduates, especially those who are bilingual, could become that all-necessary segue to ensuring patient needs at every level.     

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At the end of the day, health care needs will continue to rise. In order to combat the low numbers, there are additional programs that private health organizations have implemented to reach out to prospective nursing students. For example, Aurora Health Care, an integrated not-for-profit health care provider serving communities throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, offers a Minority Nursing Scholarship Program by allowing up to $15,000 in loan forgiveness ($5,000 per year for a three-year commitment after graduation) and offers potential candidates a mentoring relationship with a staff RN. They are also given opportunities for leadership development and part-time employment while earning their degree. There are a few qualifications any potential candidate should consider. Among them are completion of either a qualified clinical rotation or certified nursing assistant program and maintaining a 3.0 or better GPA. After graduation, you must also be willing to be employed by Aurora Health Care as a graduate nurse. The good news? How many other employers can make that kind of guarantee to someone wading through mid-term papers, all-nighter study sessions, and cramming for finals? When you graduate—you have a job waiting for you.

Now, that is something worth thinking about. n

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References

1. US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. The Registered Nurse Population: Findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. September 2010. http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/rnsurveys/rnsurveyfinal.pdf. Accessed November 2012.

2. US Census Bureau. 2010 Census Data: United States National Population.

3. US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. Health Center Data: 2011 National Data. http://bphc.hrsa.gov/uds/view.aspx?year=2011. Accessed November 2012.

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