Florida faces critical nursing shortage

10/27/08 Lisa Marzilli
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

The United States is in the midst of a nursing shortage that is only expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the demand for health care grows. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the shortage in the U.S. could reach as high as a half million by 2025.

Florida is especially hard hit with a current shortfall of 13,000, according to the state-funded Florida Center for Nursing. Two contributing factors have created a kind of Catch 22. On one hand, enrollment numbers in nursing schools are not keeping pace with the projected demand. But on the other hand, a shortage of nursing school faculty, as well as budget constraints are causing nursing schools to actually turn applicants away. Last year more than 40,000 qualified applicants were turned away, according to the AACN.

Today in Tampa - gathered around the nurses’ station in the new spinal chord injury wing of the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital - Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor announced an initiative funded by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs that partners the University of South Florida with the Veterans Hospital to establish the VA Nursing Academy.

Under the program, the VA will provide $3.5 million to pay for additional faculty members and allow 100 more students to enroll in the nursing program. The students will do their clinical work at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital with the hope that some of them will eventually stay on.

Patricia Burns is Dean of USF’s College of Nursing. She said USF was one of only 11 Schools of Nursing to receive the award. In addition to the $3.5 million, Burns said USF was also awarded a scholarship grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Castor said the initiative was a win-win situation because it also would create high paying jobs in the Tampa area at a time of soaring unemployment.

Carey Ledee is a nursing student who was on the waiting list to get into the VA Nursing Academy. She found out she was accepted just three weeks before classes began. She said the scholarship was a major factor in her decision to attend USF.

For more information, visit Health.usf.edu

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