1 million nurses needed by 2022

SEATTLE — A nursing shortage is going to hit hospitals hard while they're already down.

University of Washington’s medicine program announced furloughs yesterday, and they are not alone. Cuts are also coming to Multicare and Virginia Mason.

By one estimate, a million more nurses will be needed in the U.S. by 2022. There is plenty of interest in nursing, but there are too few places to train nurses.

COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief the value of nurses, yet tens of thousands of nursing jobs go unfilled each year because not enough new nurses are being trained.

In some ways, these are the best and worst of times for nurses, on the front lines of a deadly disease that has, itself, thinned their ranks.

But it has also brought great public acclaim to the career.

"Finally, finally, people acknowledge the very important role that nurses have always played to promote the health of people," said Dr. Azita Emami, dean of the University of Washington's esteemed nursing program.

Emami spoke on the 200th anniversary of the birth of their patron saint, Florence Nightingale.

She says the fight against COVID-19 may force nursing educators "to be ready for this massive interest of people applying for nursing programs so that we have the capacity to actually prepare more nurses."

The shortage is due to several factors: an aging nursing school faculty, too few nurses with Ph.D.s to replace them, and a lack of clinical settings to train the 150,000 students nursing schools turn out each year.

"This is definitely the career that I want," said Aaliyah Ismail, a UW senior nursing student who could be working in a few weeks.

Ismail has watched with great interest the risks and rewards of her chosen career during a pandemic.

"It is stressful and it is scary," she said, "and also I don't think that that's changed my drive to pursue nursing. I just really can't see myself doing anything else."

"I just feel that the stars are aligned for nurses," said Emami, "and I hope the public will help us and support us."

That support is desperately needed. As it is, some 75,000 potential nursing applicants are rejected from nursing schools each year because there is no room for them.