This should get your attention. There will be 1 million vacancies for nurses by the year 2024 — a mere six years away. There are a few factors that are influencing this statistic.
First, the nation’s population is aging and living longer. The percentage of people over 65 is expected to increase by 50% compared with today, which creates a very large number of individuals who will be in need of some type of healthcare.
Second, with the increased number of older adults and requisite health issues, it seems obvious we will need more healthcare providers. However, much of our workforce is reaching retirement age. Right now there are as many people turning 65 as there are turning 20, and that is not a good trend.
Third, the health of our population in Arkansas is poor. “United Health Care Foundation: America’s Health Ranking for 2017” ranks Arkansas 46th for senior health, 49th for health of women and children and 48th as a state overall out of 50 states.
Zip code is one of the best predictors of health. It is well documented there is a 10-year longevity difference between some ZIP codes in eastern Arkansas versus those in western Arkansas. Over the past 10 years in Arkansas, adult obesity is up 16%, diabetes is up 21% and premature death (years lost before age 75) is up 29%.
And fourth, the number of students graduating from high school has gone up slightly since 2005 but in some regions of the country are projected to go down by 2023.
In Arkansas, we are projected to be less than 5% higher, but that will vary depending upon where you live. In eastern Arkansas, the number of individuals with at least a high school diploma varies by county but is in the range of less than 50% to approximately 80% of our region. High school diplomas/GEDs are necessary to move to post-secondary education where the education of health professionals resides.
What does all of this mean?
It means many things, including the need for as many high school graduates as possible to go to college and choose a health career and practice that profession throughout their lifetime. It means we might need a different way or different models to deliver healthcare so that we can positively impact larger numbers of individuals through team based care or population health initiatives. It means practitioners need to practice “at the top of their license” — to the maximum that the state law allows.
It also means states need to look at expanding scopes of practice which would provide enhanced access to healthcare while still assuring safety of the public. It absolutely means people need to take responsibility for their personal health and live healthy active lifestyles.
The College of Nursing and Health Professions at Arkansas State University is using a multifaceted approach to address this “perfect storm” as it is often described. We are continuing to develop new degree programs to meet market need, satellite some of those programs to other areas of the state and increase the class size of our existing health programs.
We’re also continuing to build some appropriate online programs for academic credential upgrades which lead to advanced education opportunities, design undergraduate and graduate certificates for skill enhancement, build interprofessional (team-based) education into our service delivery model, teach healthcare to our students, thread focused content appropriate for the needs of our region into our curriculums beyond what is mandated by accreditation and so much more.
It takes a dedicated team of students, faculty and staff and supportive practice environments to implement initiatives that will be impactful. We are blessed at Arkansas State to have that infrastructure in place. Please know we are working hard to make a difference.
Editor’s note: Susan Hanrahan is the dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Arkansas State University. The opinions expressed are those of the author.