Despite a nursing shortage that existed well before the COVID-19 pandemic turned it desperate, colleges are turning away tens of thousands of applicants to nursing programs.
An article by the nonprofit education news organization The Hechinger Report cites Long Beach (Calif.) City College as a stark example. The college this year accepted only 32 students out of 1,200 nursing applicants. Another California college accepted none.
COVID is to blame for worsening the situation by forcing schools to limit in-person instruction, substituting simulations and telehealth care for the clinical work required of student nurses.
Hospitals where students would normally get the hands-on clinical experience are turning them down, according to the report, because they are too busy to provide the training and can’t spare the personal protective equipment.
“It’s very shortsighted of them,” Sigrid Sexton, chair of the nursing program at Long Beach City College, told Hechinger reporter Matt Krupnick. “We’re very supportive of the hospitals’ needs to protect patients, but we’d like to see them be more supportive of students.”
Even when students are able to find a facility willing to accept them, many are required to buy their own personal protective equipment and pay for their own COVID tests.
“When you start putting extra costs on the students and the programs, that becomes a barrier,” said John Cordova, a nurse who directs California’s Health Workforce Initiative.
Problems with nurse training have been developing for years, notes the report. Faculty shortages kept many schools from increasing enrollment to meet the demand. Other schools had to limit enrollment even before COVID for lack of faculty.
Sharon Goldfarb, dean of health sciences at the College of Marin and a regional president of the California Organization of Associate Degree Nursing, said a third of the state’s nursing schools have lost faculty since March. The average age of those remaining is 62.
A key reason is the relatively low pay of teachers, especially when compared to practicing nurses. In California, the average annual pay for an experienced RN is $113,000. Indeed puts the average pay for junior college instructors in California at $65,748. The majority of nurses are trained in junior and community colleges.
Between the shortage of clinical opportunities and the lack of in-person teaching, educators fear many new graduates may not be sufficiently prepared.
“It would be naive to say, ‘Oh, no, this won’t affect them at all,’ ” said Renae Schumann, dean of the Houston Baptist University nursing school in Texas. “Yes, we all worry about it.”