Covid-19 Worsens Pre-Pandemic Nursing Shortage


By Sarah Blazonis

The University of South Florida's College of Nursing is working to enroll more future nurses in its undergrad program to curb the shortage being seen across the state and country.

"This has been an escalating problem nationally," said Usha Menon, dean of the USF College of Nursing and senior associate vice president of USF Health. "It's less about enrollment and more about, I think, the aging out of the profession, you know, people retiring, etc. That's been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, where the ravages of the pandemic have really led to people leaving the profession much sooner than we thought. People, you know, just too tired to continue, so they may be ready for retirement in ten years, but they've decided that they'll exit now."

"Some nurses were sick and were able to return, and some nurses were sick and not able to return because they were long haulers," said Florida Nurses Association Executive Director Willa Fuller of the statewide situation. "There was a lot of need for nurses to be traveling in other states, and that gives them a great fiscal benefit because the pay is very good."

Fuller said she's not sure if that will even out. Some nurses have told her they plan to return to jobs they had before the pandemic, but she said young nurses in particular have mentioned travel work is helping them with major expenses, like paying off student loans.

USF cites figures from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics that show the country will be in need of 1.1 million new nurses by next year. To help with the local, state, and national shortage, its college of nursing is phasing out an online program for registered nurses who want to get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Menon said resources are being reallocated to allow for more pre-licensure students to enroll.

"We've always been excited to offer this program, but it doesn't put new nurses out into the field. These are existing nurses, and so, you know, with limited resources, we had to really think about what is it that we want to do for Tampa Bay, what is it that we want to do for Florida and, ultimately, the nation," Menon said.

According to USF Health, the move is expected to boost enrollment at its Tampa campus by 20 percent and double it at its St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses. Menon said the changes are also projected to increase new graduates going into nursing by 24 percent during the next two years.

Retention is another issue. Menon said USF Health is working with Sarasota Memorial Hospital on a program for new nurses. Beginning in their senior year, they’d go through the program, which focuses on wellness and resiliency, teaching those who spend their days caring for others how to take the time to check in with and care for themselves. It’s similar to the College of Nursing’s "Frontline Nursing During COVID-19: A New Paradigm" webinar series that teaches self care skills to nurses in Florida and nationwide.

"Are they more likely to be retained at that workplace? And if we are able to show that that program is successful, we would love to expand it out to area hospitals," Menon said.

Still, Menon said these are first steps towards what will likely be a years long process of getting numbers in the nursing workforce back up.

Fuller said promising news came Wednesday when FNA learned money was included in the state budget for the Florida Center for Nursing in Orlando.

"What the center for nursing does is collect data and make projections for future workforce needs as it pertains to nursing. They look at education programs - you know, how many students are going in, how many are completing the program," Fuller said.

Menon said she'd like to see the state and federal government continue to look at ways to put resources into nursing schools and increase enrollment.


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