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FL Nursing Forecast: 50,000 Short

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
University of Central Florida
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Based on current trends, Florida will be short by more than 50,000 registered nurses by the year 2025, a nursing expert warned a committee of the State University System's Board of Governors on Monday.

While the number of nurse training programs in the state has doubled in the past four years, most of the students are emerging as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses with just a two-year or associate's degree from college.

That is less than the level of education they need, said Mary Lou Brunell, executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing. The center is housed at University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Hospitals and other employers increasingly want and need bachelor's degree RNs who have a broader education and can handle today's more complex patients and technology, she said.

"We need to elevate the level of nursing in all facilities," Brunell said. "Baccalaureate grads are in fact better prepared for critical thinking and technological demands. And as we are increasing the level of illness, the complexity, the technological challenges, then that really demands a nurse who can accommodate those issues."

An Institute of Medicine report says 80 percent of all employed RNs should hold at least a bachelor's degree by 2020, yet only 42 percent in Florida had that degree as of last year, she said.

She and others presented sobering data on looming shortages of nurses and physicians to the Board of Governors' Health Initiatives Committee, which is spending this year soaking up information in preparation for drawing up recommendations. Deans from state university medical schools and nursing schools made presentations at the event, held at the University of South Florida's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa.

Among the challenges: Finding enough hospital training slots for nurses and residency programs for physicians. The day may be coming when hospitals demand that colleges pay them to take their grads, the deans said.

State-funded nursing programs have a hard time finding and keeping faculty because private for-profit schools can pay more, said Anna McDaniel, dean of nursing at University of Florida.  Aging faculty  members are nearing retirement, she said, and "it's scary."

Given the limitations, Brunell said, it may be advisable to get state-funded colleges to shift slots now used for associate's degree RNs to bachelor's degree RNs.

As of January, she reported, Florida had about 270,000 licensed RNs. But just 178,000 of them were working as nurses, she said.

Of course, the shortage of nurses and primary-care doctors is not new. As committee chairman Edward Morton of Naples said, "These are issues I've heard about for 20 years." 

But there will be a day of reckoning, as the population of Florida grows and the percentage that have chronic conditions keeps increasing.

"We've got this monstrous shortage," Morton said. "It's an enormous challenge."