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USF College of Nursing works to boost enrollment as nurse shortage looms

The school plans to admit more students and phase out a program that doesn’t create new nurses.
Veteran nurse Sharon Edwards treats a COVID-19 patient in December at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The pandemic is prompting many nurses to leave the field, exacerbating a nationwide nurse shortage. The University of South Florida says it is taking steps to increase the number of nursing school graduates over the next two or three years to meet the coming demand.
Veteran nurse Sharon Edwards treats a COVID-19 patient in December at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The pandemic is prompting many nurses to leave the field, exacerbating a nationwide nurse shortage. The University of South Florida says it is taking steps to increase the number of nursing school graduates over the next two or three years to meet the coming demand.
Published Jun. 23

Bracing for a post-pandemic nursing shortage that is expected to hit the South particularly hard, the University of South Florida is making adjustments it hopes will lead to more nurses entering the field.

The university’s College of Nursing hopes to boost the number of graduates by about 24 percent over the next two to three years by increasing admissions to its traditional and accelerated programs. It also plans to phase out an online program that allows working nurses with associate degrees to complete their bachelor’s degrees. Such programs have seen a 2.5 percent dip in enrollment nationally.

“That doesn’t let us put new nurses in the field,” College of Nursing dean Usha Menon said, referring to the online program. “We don’t have unlimited resources.”

The university announced the changes earlier this month.

Usha Menon, dean of USF's College of Nursing. [Courtesy of USF Health]
Usha Menon, dean of USF's College of Nursing. [Courtesy of USF Health]

Compounding the nursing shortage, is a nursing faculty shortage, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. A 2019 report by the association said colleges of nursing in the United States turned away more than 80,000 qualified applicants that year due to a lack of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space and other budget constraints.

The shortage came up at Tuesday’s meeting of the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System. Board members discussed a bill recently approved by the Legislature that would offer tuition breaks to encourage students to choose STEM fields that are in demand. Board member Alan Levine questioned why the bill didn’t address nursing, given the workforce shortage in that field. Previous areas of strategic emphasis defined by the Board had included nursing.

“Given the significant workforce needs that are being created post-pandemic and the gap that exists with nursing and the projected shortages, why would we not want to ... include nursing?” he asked.

As of Wednesday, the bill had yet to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 1.1 million new nurses will be needed by 2022 to fill the gap and is anticipated to be felt in Florida by 2025.

“We have been taking a hard look at what we are doing to increase the pipeline,” said Menon, the USF dean. “What are we doing to fill the needs?”

Aside from the problem of fewer new nurses, retention issues have plagued the field. While nurses leaving for better paying hospital systems has been an ongoing challenge, the pandemic has exacerbated burnout, Menon said.

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“Nationally and in Florida, nurses are leaving the profession altogether or are retiring earlier than anticipated,” she said. “It’s reported that more than 22 percent of nurses will leave within the next year.”

She said she hopes to work on creating residency programs that would encourage nurses to stay in local hospital systems and increasing resilience and coping skills for graduates.

The last class of students in the online program for nurses with associate degrees will be enrolled in fall and have until 2023 to complete their degrees.