The crisis in nursing: New reports highlight some vexing problems and why there may still be cause for optimism


Add a new series of reports from the good people at Higher Ed Works to your list of “must reads” (and “must watches” — there are some videos included) in the coming days. As we learn in the introductory installment to “Help Wanted: Nurses,” North Carolina was already facing a worsening nursing shortage prior to the pandemic and the last year and a half has only added to the problem.

As we climb out of a global pandemic, we’ve seen nurses take incredible risks to themselves and their families. We’ve seen them hold the hands of patients as they die. We’ve seen them hold tablets for patients to see and hear goodbyes from their loved ones.

Yet even before the pandemic, we didn’t have enough nurses. And the shortage is only expected to get worse.

The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC Chapel Hill will soon release a model that projects North Carolina could face a shortage of 10,000 registered nurses – almost 10% of the current RN workforce – by 2033.

According to that model, the state could also face a shortage of 5,000 licensed practical nurses – more than 20% of the LPN workforce – by the same year.

Happily the reports are about more than merely documenting the problem. In an installment that looks at the situation at UNC Greensboro’s School of Nursing, there are notes of optimism from new dean, Deborah Barksdale, who says that, despite the current slump, “We really have the opportunity to increase the supply, at least in our own way. And more importantly, the supply we produce is going to be even better-prepared.”

Meanwhile, in the latest installment, which profiles a true hero of the profession who came to be known as the “Mother Teresa of Durham,” the series highlights someone who has inspired scores of nurses down through the years.

Going forward, Higher Ed Works promises to examine, among other things:

  • how some institutions are confronting the state’s longstanding nursing shortage,
  • the frustrations of battling the job market to hire enough instructors to train nurses,
  • how burnout among nurses is real – and increased during the pandemic,
  • the critical need for nurses in rural settings, and
  • how the demand for nurses is shifting.

Be sure to stay tuned.

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