Florida Needs 3,000 Registered Nurses - Now


St. Petersburg - The Florida Hospital Association estimates there are about 3,000 vacant registered nurse positions in hospitals around the state -- an 8.2% vacancy rate -- and says the shortage is going to get worse.

The demand for professionals has prompted a surge in applications from people wanting to become nurses. Schools, in turn, have scrambled to ramp up their nurse-training programs; the Legislature has even chipped in $10 million in the form of a grant program that pays schools up to $500,000 to fund programs to increase enrollment.

The schools' biggest problem, they say, is finding faculty -- even when they have funded positions. While the number of teaching positions increased by 7.1% in 2004 to 1,708, faculty vacancies escalated by nearly 20% to 92.

Florida's overall nursing faculty vacancy rate last year was 9%. In the Panhandle, more than one in five budgeted nursing faculty positions is vacant, according to the Florida Center for Nursing. The Agency for Workforce Innovation, Labor Market Services predicts that there will be 94 annual openings for nursing instructors statewide through 2009. Vacancies can commonly take up to six months to fill, and some positions can stay open for up to two years, the nursing center estimates.

Kathleen Ann Long, University of Florida College of Nursing dean, calls the faculty deficit the "dirty little secret" that no one wants to talk about. "The nursing shortage actually pales in comparison to the nursing faculty shortage, which is anticipated to get much worse over the next decade," Long says.

Complicating matters is the fact that the schools are competing for talent in the same labor market they're trying to serve -- research institutions, hospitals and other healthcare providers, including health staffing services that find highly paid "per diem" work for nurses.

Increasingly, the private sector is offering incentives that schools can't match. Employee referral fees, sign-on bonuses and relocation or startup bonuses can boost a nurse practitioner's pay to at least $60,000 annually. The average sign-on bonus in Florida for an RN was $4,366 last year, according to the Florida Hospital Association.

Teaching spots don't pay nearly as well. Nursing instructors can expect to earn somewhere in the mid-$40,000s to the mid-$50,000s, or $50,000 to $60,000 if they have a doctorate.

Further complicating matters is age. The average nurse in Florida is 47.3 years old -- compared to 43.3 nationally -- and the average age of nursing faculty in Florida is 56. Within three years, an estimated 143 of Florida's 795 nursing school instructors will retire, predicts the Florida Council of Nursing Education Administration.

"The nursing shortage actually pales in comparison to the nursing faculty shortage, which is anticipated to get much worse over the next decade," says Kathleen Ann Long, dean of the University of Florida College of Nursing.With too few teachers, schools are having to turn away potential students in droves. The nursing center reports that 6,243 qualified applicants were turned away from educational programs last fall. Florida Atlantic University recently said no to 350 qualified students applying for the 2005 fall semester. At the University of North Florida, more than 1,200 applicants recently applied for a mere 120 spots.

UF estimates that for every student it accepts into the nursing program, it places one to two other qualified applicants on waiting lists. "People realize that nursing is a good job. It offers great flexibility, great financial security, and if there's such a shortage, why not come and join this wonderful profession?" says Pam Chally, dean of UNF's College of Health. "But now we can't accommodate everyone who wants to join this wonderful profession."

Adds Anne Boykin, dean and professor at FAU's Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing: "I think that we in the state of Florida, as well as nationally, all face a similar situation. We are all turning away huge numbers of students."



Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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