Special Report: Nursing shortage hitting close to home - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Nursing shortage hitting close to home

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West Virginia isn’t short by dozens of nurses, hundreds, or even by thousands.

The Mountain State is short by up to 20 thousand.

That’s an estimate according to Duane Napier, director of several nursing programs at the University of Charleston.

“The nursing shortage - this is the third one I’ve seen in my career. It ebbs and flows. I think this one though, is going to be the worst,” Napier said. “It’s not just in West Virginia but we’re here and we’re feeling it.”

Napier and several other medical professions talked exclusively with 13 News about this critical nursing shortage and how we can get it fixed.

Shortage of Bedside Nurses

The Problem: Many nurses in West Virginia are nearing the age of retirement, according to Becky Brannon, senior vice president of nursing for Thomas Health Systems. On top of that, nurses are needed in almost every aspect of healthcare, Brannon says. Nurses now have the opportunity to travel, work in doctor’s offices and more. With so many other opportunities, Brannon says there’s now a lack of interest in being a nurse at the bedside.

The Fix: Many hospitals in the area are encouraging people to become bedside nurses with incentives. At Thomas Memorial, the hospital is giving nurses a minimum $5,000 signing bonus and also offering to pay a percentage of that nurse’s tuition if he or she chooses to go back to school once he or she has accepted a job with the hospital. Hospitals like Pikeville Medical Center are offering nurses a car when they sign-on to work with them.

Thomas Memorial is also trying to generate interest in nursing with the younger generation. They’ve started a junior nursing academy, a program where middle schoolers get community service hours by coming to the hospital to learn about the job during the summer months.

“We need those nurses. We need young people in school thinking, ‘Do I want to be a nurse?’” Brannon said. “We offer some things here to help them”

Lack of Educational Opportunities

The Problem: West Virginia has lost several nursing schools throughout the state, which cuts down on the number of nursing students the area can produce, Napier said. On top of that, Napier says each school is limited in the number of students it can accept.

“[At one time] we had 50 qualified applicants,” Napier said of UC’s associate’s program in Beckley. “But we’re only able to accept 15”

The Fix: Napier says one of the first steps toward tackling this severe shortage of nurses in the Mountain State starts with academia. Napier said more schools should consider offering non-traditional programs to help students get nursing degrees.

For example, UC has recently started an associate’s degree program in Beckley. Classes are held every other weekend, which Napier says helps working people complete a degree while still holding a full-time job.

Napier says currently the only other program similar to this one is offered by Fairmont State.

Not Enough Nursing Instructors

The Problem: “Currently to be qualified in state of West Virginia, you have to have a master’s degree in nursing, at least 24 months of teaching experience and you have to have worked as a nurse for 2 years in the last 10 years of the area in which you’re teaching,” Napier said in a one-on-one interview with 13 News. “The issue is you only have so many slots for nursing faculty based on the number of students you need to teach and if you can’t bring new nursing faculty in to train them to be nursing faculty, right there you’ve cut off the supply.”

Napier went on to explain the problem in further detail.

“We currently have a rule against us that 51 percent of all nursing faculty in every nursing school have to be fully qualified and only 49 percent can be unqualified,” Napier said. “We’re kind of stuck in the middle right now with problems like that and we need more people who want to go back to school to get a master's degree in nursing in order to be prepared to assume a teaching position. And in academia we’re not making the money you make in a healthcare environment which is twice sometimes two-and-a-half times the salary.”

The Fix: On top of needing more people willing to get their master’s degree in nursing to become a teacher (and accept a pay cut), Napier said changes need to be made at the board of nursing level.

Napier said if the board of nursing would recognize a nursing faculty residency-type program, student teaching-like scenario or even a boot camp class for new nurses as part of their qualifications for faculty, the state could see an increase in faculty which could in turn lead to more students receiving an education in nursing which would then give West Virginia the nurses it needs.

At least, it could help.

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