CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Nursing shortages in North Carolina and around the country have gotten so much attention, that applications to nursing schools are up dramatically.
When Polly Speas graduates from the University of North Carolina School of Nursing next week, she is practically guaranteed a job. Her graduating class of 160 will help put a dent in the nursing shortage, but there are still plenty of vacancies.
To fill the gap, nursing schools like UNC's are scrambling to produce more nurses, but it is not as easy as it sounds.
At a time when nurses are in high demand, funding for nursing programs is a problem. For the last three years, UNC's School of Nursing has had its budget cut.
As a result, state-funded nursing schools cannot accept as many students as they would like.
"We have 550 applicants for our 160 positions for this year. We're turning away incredible students who would make great nurses," said Linda Cronenwett, dean of the UNC School of Nursing.
Speas had to wait her turn to get in.
Cronenwett says part of the problem is a state law limiting the number of students an advisor can supervise.
"You can't have more than eight to 10 students on a unit with a faculty member," she said.
Under the budget crunch, UNC cannot afford to hire new faculty, which prevents the school from accepting more students.
Cronenwett hopes the upcoming budget will not include cuts and the school can move ahead with plans to accept more students as the demand for nurses continues to grow.
"We know that the demand for nursing care over the next 10 years is going to grow as people age," she said.
Budgets for Duke University's nursing program and the Watts School of Nursing in Durham have remained the same over the past three years.
Many nursing programs have come up with creative ways to turn out more nurses in less time, including 14-month programs. Other programs rely on grants to accept more students.