A Prescription for the Nursing Shortage

Posted: Jun 13, 2007 5:51 PM
A Prescription for the Nursing Shortage

It’s funny how historic events can have unexpected impacts many decades after memories have begun to fade. America, in fact, is facing a crisis in the next few years that could be traced directly to actions in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Many young people today have no idea of the scale of World War II -- and I expect it explains why some are impatient regarding the War on Terror. It's hard to fathom now, but nearly 20 million Americans served their country in that conflict. Enormous sacrifices were made by civilians. Approximately 400,000 soldiers gave their lives.

When that war finally ended, tens of millions of Americans, who had put their lives on hold, started families. That was the Baby Boom. Now, as those post-war babies have grown and begun to retire, our country faces a whole raft of challenges. Entitlement reform’s an obvious one, but there are others -- such as the growing nursing shortage.

Simply because we live longer than before, the need for qualified nurses has increased. When millions of Baby Boomers reach their mid-eighties, the need will be overwhelming unless we prepare now. Part of the solution is immigration preferences for qualified nurses, but that's not enough. We need to train more nurses at home.

You might think that, with nursing jobs going unfilled, our universities would be recruiting nurses as fast as they could. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has reported more than 42,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools last year because of lack of capacity. More will be turned down every year -- unless we can rapidly expand our nurse training programs.

Fortunately, somebody is planning to do just that. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been on the receiving end of some sharp criticism lately. And you know my view that our government is wasting billions of dollars in mismanagement, and suffers from incompetence in many areas.

It's important, though, that we recognize when government does something right. And one of the biggest employers of nurses in the world, with more than 60,000 nursing personnel, the VA struggles to fill its posts. The VA has announced an innovative plan to help deal with that problem. It’s establishing the virtual VA Nursing Academy, partnering with 12 nursing schools across the country over the next three years to train more nurses. The immediate beneficiary will be veterans, including many who served in World War II. An increase in the number of nurses, though, will benefit all Americans.