Washington state is experiencing a significant shortage of nursing and many people did not see it coming. Because of the recent economic downturn it looked as if the nursing workforce in Washington was strong enough to sustain itself. In reality, however, a substantial number of the workforce were simply putting off retirement until the economic crisis was resolved.
Now, therefore, it seems that the predictions made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on the shortage of nurses by 2020 will indeed come true. One of the problems Washington is facing is that insufficient efforts were made to address future problems during the economic downturn, which means that many people now don’t look towards Washington for their nursing education or nursing jobs.
Meanwhile, the demographics of the state are changing. The population is both growing and aging and some 300,000 extra people are able to access health care following the Affordable Care Act. There are now 47 medically underserved areas in the state, affecting over 45% of all residents. This is a significant problem that has to be addressed now, because the shortage is only expected to get worse.
To combat the problem, Washington is looking at various tools and processes to address the shortage. One particular area of focus is its workforce of advanced practice nurses, and Nurse Educators in particular. Currently, only 6.7% of the total nursing workforce in the state is educated to master’s degree level. There are currently 10 schools accredited through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and their faculty are unable to meet the demand for nursing students. Indeed, although some 4,016 students are enrolled at these schools, a further 1,556 had to be turned away because there simply isn’t enough staff to teach them. Nevertheless, one positive sign is that fewer students have been turned away this academic year than they were in the previous academic year.
It is of vital importance that Washington state authorities create incentives to attract a stronger nursing workforce, particularly those who are educated to master’s degree level. The goal of all states is to have 80% of their nursing workforce educated to bachelor level as a minimum. As a result, various programs are being made available, including online options and RN to BSN degree programs. Another issue that must be addressed is that the average salary for nurses is just $63,174 per year, although those with higher levels of education do earn significantly more.