Nursing programs turn away students despite shortage

Posted at 8:20 PM, Jul 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-26 16:17:43-04

Nursing programs are turning away students, even though the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development  (DWD) said the state is quickly moving toward a nursing shortage.

Nursing schools have gotten creative to address the issue, since it turns out a big part of the issue is that there are plenty of students, just not enough people to teach them.

After an almost 15-year career as an athletic trainer and educator, Chad Kelsey swapped roles. He's now a nursing student at the  Milwaukee School of Engineering School of Nursing 18-month program. These days his teacher, Dr. Jane Paige uses her nursing skills mostly on mannequins. But, since she became a nursing instructor she said her view on a patient has changed.

"Our students become our patients," Paige said. She hopes more experienced nurses will embrace that perspective.

"There's a lot of people interested in nursing and sometimes they're turned away from programs because we can't accommodate that number," explained Paige.

According to a DWD survey, almost half of the people in the nursing education field are over 55 years old, and the average age is 52. That means in about 10 years many of the people teaching nurses will be at or near retirement age.

"Who's going to teach our future nurses?" wonders Paige. She said early in her career she never considered teaching, and some people don't leave practice because it can pay more than academia.

With the lack of educators, programs like the one Paige teaches at MSOE have started popping up across the state. They're intensive 18-month programs for people who may or may not have any medical background. The cost for the accelerated programs varies depending on the number of credits to need to complete.  It allows nursing instructors to get more nurses in and out of school more quickly.

"Overall it increases the enrollment, it increases the number of nurses out there," said Paige. She reports more than 95 percent of graduates pass on the nursing license test after graduation. The same DWD survey found not enough people go from B.S. or M.S. programs to Ph.D's in nursing. It indicated cost and family obligations can be prohibitive. The governor's proposed budget for 2017- 2019 does include several funding programs to expand nursing education and get nurses to rural areas and nursing home facilities where they're needed most.

It's one step toward resolving what could someday become a crisis in the medical profession-especially as Wisconsin grows older. By 2030- one in five Wisconsinites will be 65 or older. That aging baby boomer population creates an even greater need for nurses.

Kelsey hopes to go into orthopedics when he graduates, but would consider becoming an educator someday.

"You get the information here, you've got to get out, put it into practice and then hopefully maybe come back and those little tips and tricks of the trade that you can give back to the future generations," he said.

A thought process many hope other nurses will follow before the shortage gets even worse.