Nursing Schools Report Hurdles To Expanding Enrollment

On December 9, 2021, Kentucky’s Governor Andy Beshear declared the state’s chronic nursing shortage an emergency and issued an executive order aimed at adding 16,000 nurses to Kentucky’s workforce by 2024.

The state’s immediate actions aim to boost enrollment at nursing schools, according to an ABC News article.

Kentucky is by no means the only state experiencing a nursing shortage that has worsened during the pandemic, which has made nurses more likely to retire, suffer from burnout, or quit. Demand for nurses is putting pressure on nursing schools to increase enrollment.

The good news in this scenario is that people seemingly want to pursue nursing careers. The bad news: U.S. nursing schools are struggling to expand due to a lack in clinical sites and other challenges, and many turn away eligible candidates.

Finding Clinical Sites a Challenge

Kathryn Tart, RN

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released data in April 2021 that revealed student enrollment rose in 2020, in baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral nursing programs. Though interest in nursing programs is strong, U.S. nursing schools were reportedly forced to turn away 80,521 qualified applications in 2020 due primarily to a shortage of clinical sites and faculty and resource constraints, according to AACN. The total included 66,274 turned away from entry-level baccalaureate programs.

“We could admit more students if we had more faculty and if we had more clinical sites where we can send our students,” said Kathryn Tart, EdD, MSN, RN, University of Houston College of Nursing Founding Dean and Humana Endowed Dean’s Chair in Nursing.

Undergraduate nursing students go through eight to 10 different clinical rotations. Each clinical rotation used to have a limit of about 10 students, but with COVID-19, it has been limited to six to eight students per faculty member at each clinical site, Tart explained.

Students must trust that if a nursing school admits them, the school will have a clinical site available, according to Tart. “We work hard with our practice partners to make sure that we can do that” she said. “It really takes all of us together to be able to have our students graduate and graduate on time.”

That hasn’t been easy through the pandemic.

“We were very fortunate that we were able to graduate our students on time, even during the pandemic. And they are extraordinarily needed,” Tart said.

Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU’s) Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing in Boca Raton is experiencing those same challenges, according to Joy Longo, PhD, RNC-NIC, CNE, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of undergraduate nursing programs at FAU.

With a total nursing student enrollment of about 1,200 for its nursing programs and tracks, FAU is accommodating all the students it can. But clinical placement challenges and a faculty shortage are among the factors keeping FAU from expanding its nursing program.

“The biggest challenge is clinical placement. When the pandemic first hit, the hospitals in South Florida would not allow students in, so we had to find alternative methods for clinical education. Now they’ve reopened, some of them in a …read more

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