20 percent nursing shortage expected by 2015

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Pamela Horvath and Betty Ishoy, from left, are both assistant professors in the UWG School of Nursing, shown in the nursing lab. Despite the high pay (a $66,973 average for all nurses) and increasing demand and prestige, not nearly enough young people are entering the nursing profession, the school’s dean told Newnan Rotary members Friday.

By JEFF BISHOP jbishop@newnan.com While some are predicting that Coweta County may develop into a "mecca" for health care in the coming years with the construction of two new hospitals and medical offices, the nurses to staff those hospitals may be in short supply. Dr. Kathryn Grams, dean of the University of West Georgia School of Nursing, told the Newnan Rotary Club Friday that health professionals expect to see a 20 percent shortage in nurses by 2015.
"Here is where the trouble starts," said Grams. "There will be a shortage of 260,000 nurses by 2025." That's due to several factors, including an aging population, a lack of nursing faculty at colleges and technical schools, and a high turnover rate in the profession. "It's a stressful job," she said, "and that drives some of them from the nursing work force." Despite the high pay (a $66,973 average for all nurses) and increasing demand and prestige, not nearly enough young people are entering the nursing profession, she said. Those who are trying to enter the field are often turned away because there's simply not enough teachers to instruct them, she said. "We have a very competitive admissions program at the University of West Georgia," Grams explained. "Out of 350 applicants, we can seat about 120," she said. "So we're running at about 3-to-1 right now." Nursing is becoming a very different profession than it was just a generation ago. The old nursing diploma programs at local hospitals have been phased out, she said, and more nursing candidates are opting for four-year degree programs. While about 13.9 percent of nurses currently hold traditional nursing diplomas, about 36.1 percent have earned an associate's degree, usually at a technical school, and 36.8 percent graduate with a bachelor's degree from a college or university. About 13.2 percent earn a master's or doctorate in nursing, she said. "Increasingly, we are moving toward nursing practitioners getting their doctorate degrees," she said, as more of those practitioners become primary health care providers. "Many of you may have a nurse as a primary provider, rather than a doctor," she said. That makes sense when there are 108,258 registered nurses in Georgia, and only 30,187 physicians. "Nurses are the largest group of health care providers," said Grams. "There are 3.1 million RNs in the U.S. It is the top profession in projected job growth." Sixty-two percent of nurses are employed in hospitals, she said. "That's still the largest employer for nurses," she said. Only 3.8 percent are in colleges or other academic settings. Georgia has one of the lowest numbers of RNs per capita in the U.S., she said. "We are 46th out of 50 states," she said. "We have only 705 per 100,000 population. We are at the bottom." There are 21 associate degree nursing programs in Georgia, and 22 bachelor degree programs, along with 16 master's degree programs and eight doctoral programs. West Georgia currently has 419 nursing students at its four campuses, including the Newnan Center. It also has 722 pre-nursing candidates. Nursing students now make up about 10 percent of the University of West Georgia student population. There were 150 nursing students at the Newnan Center campus last year and 88 nursing program graduates in Newnan between 2005 and 2009. "Five of our graduates last year went to work for Piedmont Newnan Hospital," she said. Grams stressed that it's vitally important that nurses become well educated. "The fact is that studies have shown that the higher percentage of nurses with bachelor's degrees a hospital hires, the lower the death rate," said Grams. "It's important to have educated nurses at the bedside. The physician is often not there. Who calls the physician? It's the nurse."


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