direct care workers walking down the hall

Faculty shortages, nursing program capacity and financial constraints, and lack of academic preparedness fueled by learning loss during COVID-19 are making it more difficult for new caregivers to enter the field, contributing to a long-term workforce crisis, Patricia Knecht, Ph.D., MSN, RN, chief nursing officer for ATI Nursing Education, told the McKnight’s Business Daily.

ATI provides nursing education technology and support tools — including testing, NCLEX licensure exam preparation, simulation and online and in-person educational technology — for more than 60% of the nation’s undergraduate nursing programs.

New nurses are desperately needed, with the median nursing tenure falling by 19.5% between March 2021 and March 2022, according to a recent study. Shifts covered by nurses new to organizations in the last 30 days increased in all regions.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, nursing schools are facing faculty shortages that have left 8% of faculty positions vacant. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s latest annual survey of 964 schools of nursing showed that limited capacity forced nursing schools to turn away 91,000 qualified applicants in 2021.

Legislation is in the works at the state and federal level to help with issues related to nursing education, Knecht said. For example, she said, the state of Indiana recently enacted a law empowering nursing programs to increase the number of students who can enroll. 

In addition to policy initiatives, partnerships are coming online to help with the challenges in nursing education. In long-term care, for example, Knecht noted, providers can partner with community colleges on education and training programs. She suggested that senior living communities and nursing homes might want to see whether any of their retired nurses would be interested in working as clinical instructors for prospective nurses.

Once nurses are on board, Knecht said, senior living and care providers can help entice them to stay by promoting success stories from among their long-timers. New graduates are looking for role models as they begin their new careers, she said.

Providers should “carefully analyze” their onboarding processes, too, she said.

“Residency programs have not commonly existed in that sector,” Knecht said. “They have more commonly existed in acute care. It’s costly, frankly.”