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Nursing Shortage Crisis

Published: Sep. 21, 2006 at 7:29 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 5, 2006 at 2:15 PM CDT
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By Wendy Suares
wsuares@wlbt.com

The critical shortage of nurses has reached 21 hundred across the state. And we're 600 nurses short in Jackson area hospitals. The shortage is being fueled by a second crisis: There are plenty of applicants wanting to become nurses, but there are simply not enough faculty to teach them.

You might consider Jill White an endangered species. She chose to become nursing instructor at University Medical Center, despite pressure to possibly double her salary outside the classroom. "Yes, there has been, but I enjoy what I'm doing here," she says.

White's nursing students are among 85 at UMC that will graduate this Spring. But with more faculty, that school and others across the state could turn out more desperately needed nurses. "Last year we had 2300 qualified applicants to schools of nursing that were turned away," says Marcella McKay, who is with the Mississippi Hospital Association.

Members of Mississippi's health care community are tackling the nursing shortage with a new initiative called "Saving Nurses Saves Lives." Ricki Garrett/ms nurses association: "The task force is working to develop some strategies to encourage nurses to go into academia," says Exec. Dir. of MS Nurses Association Ricki Garrett.

Solutions include accelerated education programs, more scholarships, and higher wages for nursing faculty. They received $6 thousand raises last year, and state lawmakers have committed to do the same again this year, but it's still not enough to compete with neighboring states.

As hospitals go without a full staff of nurses, patients may feel the pinch. "Because there's not as many nurses working the floors of the hospitals," says White.

It's a trend that's expected to only get worse in Mississippi. Nursing faculty vacancies tripled to nearly 9% in the last year and are expected to jump to 35% in the next 3 years.

Mississippi is one of 30 states experiencing a critical shortage of nurses.