JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama

Dean of JSU's College of Nursing Presents Outlook
on the Nursing Shortage

The nationwide nursing shortage means JSU's College of Nursing faces new challenges in producing graduates and filling faculty positions. Dr. Martha Lavender, left, dean of the JSU College of Nursing, demonstrates a procedure for nursing students.


By Kelly Milam
JSU News Bureau

October 24, 2003 -- A nursing shortage, which started being felt after the mid-1990s in California, has migrated eastward, causing Alabama to experience a serious nursing shortage, also. Jacksonville State University's Dr. Martha Lavender, dean of the College of Nursing, says the shortage has an impact on JSU, as nursing majors find themselves in demand.

Last year, some of the state's hospitals had many unfilled nursing positions.

When asked about the reason for the nursing shortage, Dr. Lavender replied, "One is that there has truly been a demographic shift in the United States. If you look at the baby boomer population, you'll find that that group is much larger than the Generation X and Generation Y groups that are coming up behind them; therefore, we actually have more people that are over forty in the nursing profession than we do that are under forty.
"Also, nursing is predominately a female profession; about ninety-four to ninety-five percent of registered nurses are female. For a young woman today, there are so many educational opportunities. Women choose from medicine, to being an attorney, to being an engineer. They choose fields that typically, in the past, have not been female career paths, but now they are. That has really made a difference.
"The third factor that has made a difference is salary. The starting salaries for registered nurses are not what they tend to be in other fields. Starting salaries for registered nurses in northeast Alabama range from $26,000 to $32,000 a year."

The College of Nursing and Health Sciences admits students based on the school's faculty and clinical resources.

Lavender said, "I negotiate with all of the area nursing schools for clinical placement of students. Space is highly competitive. Since nursing is an applied science, quality clinical learning experiences are crucial to a successful transition into practice. The availability of clinical space and the ability to recruit qualified faculty is a challenge. From the beginning of enrollment into the upper division of nursing, our students go to clinical in their courses. They do a wonderful job."

Due to the nursing shortage, JSU's College of Nursing and Health Sciences has received more applicants than usual. In fact, its admission rate rose 21 percent this year.

Media have drawn attention to the fact that there is a need for additional people to enter the nursing workforce. Another reason for the increase in the number of applicants is that the Gallup poll that was released in February 2003 shows that nursing is ranked number one as the most trusted profession.

The nursing phenomenon is predicted to be present until the year 2030, which means that nursing is an excellent career option for everyone.

"I anticipate that our graduates will continue to be heavily recruited. Only about 10.4 percent of all nurses in America have a master's or doctoral degree. About forty-three percent of all nurses have a baccalaureate or higher degree, which puts them in a tremendously competitive job market," said Lavender.

When asked if there is a specific type of nursing that is in higher demand, she replied, "Many people believe that nurses specialize at the baccalaureate level. They don't; a graduate of our BSN program is prepared to work in any specialty area as an entry-level registered nurse. What happens is that they enter a baccalaureate program, which is an entry-level program, and they come out as a registered nurse generalist. They have been exposed to all of the specialties. Specialization occurs at the master's level. JSU has faculty that represent all of the specialty practices."

Lavender added, "An important factor that the public needs to be aware of is that the shortage of nursing faculty is even more severe than the workforce shortage. That is a factor for consideration as we address the workforce problem. A master's degree is the minimum degree required for teaching in a university. The pool of potential faculty is tremendously small at the local and national levels. In fact, the HRSA (Health Resources Services Administration) has recently released a call for a program that provides a fast-track option for nurses to receive advanced degrees so that they can teach. The faculty shortage is very serious.
"The average age of a full-time professor in a university in this country is fifty-five. The average age of a faculty member any rank is fifty-one. We have to replace faculty (as they retire). Many folks in public hear about the nursing shortage and think, 'we need to produce more nurses,' but if you don't have appropriately qualified faculty, you can't increase your enrollment in your programs. You hear about when people go into a health care facility and they ring the call button and nobody comes; but as we're trying to address that problem, we do it through education, and we do have an issue with that."

The nursing shortage is real, dynamic, and dangerous. Recent studies have validated the positive impact of baccalaureate prepared nurses in the health care setting.

Lavender said, "At JSU, we will continue to strive for high quality, well-prepared nursing graduates to serve as the next generation of caregivers and nursing leaders."

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