"No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine." - - - William Blum

December 13, 2006

As most Americans are acutely aware, there is a chronic nursing shortage in the U.S. As an employee of the health care industry, I am especially aware of the consequences from and reasons for this shortage. A locally prominent Democrat from my city corresponded this week with me about this issue and has some thoughts I'd like to share (very lightly edited by me):

Hello Mike,

I have seen this problem first hand. Staffing ratios may have something to do with fewer nurses. The other day I met a young woman who left nursing to pursue a career in public relations because of all the problems she encountered. She is not the first I have run into.

As far as providing more new nurses or the next generation of nurses, I think what needs to be done is to pressure our local community colleges and/or universities to expand their nursing programs. There just are not enough slots for the people who would like to enter the field of nursing. Community colleges seem to be easier to influence than universities in most cases.

I have had quite a few students who want to be nurses and some of them have to wait a very long time on the waiting list for the "lottery" that determines who will be admitted. Sometimes, they can't afford to keep waiting, so they have to take jobs in other areas to make a living. Some never come back to their original dream; it becomes impossible, economically.

With declining enrollment in the 1980's, many colleges cut all their health occupations programs and some have not been restored. In fact, Cerritos College cut the entire LVN program and kept a diminished RN program. Even our dental assisting programs suffered. Some are of the opinion that it was partly declining enrollment and partly the knowledge of HIV that had such a disasterous impact on these programs.

Unfortunately, the leadership of our local colleges did not look at the future and did not consider the fact that these dips in enrollment figures were temporary. Now we are in the midst of what is termed as "Tidal Wave II" and we have numbers of students we cannot accommodate in most disciplines including nursing. Anyway, times have changed and it is time that our insitutions of higher learning, especially our community colleges, meet the needs of the community.

Perhaps, now that our state is doing better, our assemblyman or senator could be asked to introduce legislation to provide funding to train more nurses. If the money is earmarked in this way, it cannot be used for anything else. If a case could be made of a much greater need in this area, the bill could be designed for one of our local colleges or universities. Some would argue that we need such an increase for the whole state; that is true, but I don't know what would be feasible. This advocacy could come from our local Democrats in cooperation with the California Nurses Association et al.

These are just some comments and ideas I wanted to share with you. I know it is a very complex issue, and I hope that I haven't trivialized it in any way.

S. H.

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