The Nursing Shortage and the Future of Nursing Education Is in Our Hands

The Nursing Shortage and the Future of Nursing Education Is in Our Hands

Beyond the obvious and most dis-cussed risks of prematurely end-ing social distancing restrictions, such as a second and third wave of infec- tions, more illness and deaths, and more long-term damage to the economy, an equally important risk to public health has not received the media attention it deserves: an acute and perhaps dramatic escalation of the national nursing short- age due primarily to the interruption of prelicensure nursing education. Much of what I note in this editorial is applicable to nursing education programs and nurs- ing roles at all levels—and even to other health professions such as medicine, physical, occupational, speech therapy, and so on. However, because of the cen- tral role RNs play in the U.S. health care system, I focus here on prelicensure nurs- ing education, delivered primarily in as- sociate- and baccalaureate-level degree programs in colleges and universities across the United States.

The World Health Organization (WHO, 2020a) recently reported there are 28 million nurses across the globe, with nurses comprising 59% of the total number of global health professionals and 56% of the total number of health profes- sionals in the United States. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NC- SBN, 2020) reports there are more than 4 million RNs in the United States.

Perhaps a timely but unwelcome coin- cidence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO (2020b) has deemed 2020 as “The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.” As the largest single health profession in the world, nurses form the backbone of health systems across the globe. Nurses greet us at birth and com-

fort us at death. They work when there is a foot of fresh snow on the ground, dur- ing hurricanes, and yes, most assuredly, they work during pandemics. (On a re- lated note, no health care worker should ever be asked to care for patients without adequate protective equipment.)

As many of us have now experienced, throughout March and April of this year, colleges and universities closed across the nation, and traditional clinical learn- ing sites for health professions students, especially hospitals, began to disappear overnight, often restricting students from clinical sites due to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at those sites. With little to sometimes no time to prepare for the transition, college and university faculty in most states across the country and across all academic disci- plines were asked to convert their courses into an online format.

Luckily for nursing education, we have long embraced new learning tech- nologies such as distance learning and simulation. Nursing education leaders and researchers have provided global leadership on how both in-person and virtual simulation can be used in health professions education. I am happy to say that the rapid transition of prelicensure nursing education from a predominantly face-to-face experience to a predomi- nantly online experience in the United States, although not without various and sometimes significant challenges, has gone as well as it could have—so far.