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Health Team

Nursing shortage impacting area hospitals as pandemic rolls on

Posted December 31, 2020 6:52 p.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2020 7:03 p.m. EST

— As challenges stemming from the pandemic continue to develop, many area hospitals aren’t as concerned with the lack of physical space as they are with the shortage of nurses.

Hospitals are getting more and more patients each day as COVID-19 continues to place extreme strain on medical systems in North Carolina.

Dr. Michael Zappa of Cape Fear Valley Health says that a lack of personnel could present significant difficulties.

“We don’t have all the nurses that we need," Zappa said. "If our [COVID-19 patient] numbers continue to shoot up, that will be our struggle.”

One issue factoring into the shortages is pandemic fatigue. Crystal Tillman, CEO of the North Carolina Board of Nursing, says working under the strain has led to some newer nurses leaving the profession altogether.

“I think, with the stress of being in the profession, we are seeing some of the new grads saying, ‘This is not for me. I need to go into another profession,’” Tillman explained. “New grads are coming in and here, [and] it’s hard enough, but in a pandemic, a lot of them are beginning to leave.”

According to Tillman, another factor contributing to the issue is a lack of nursing educators. This leads to nursing programs accepting fewer potential students than what is ideal.

“It’s not that people aren’t willing to go into nursing right now,” Tillman explained. “People are more than willing. Our numbers are increasing for nursing program applications. The real problem in the nursing faculty shortage [is] we don’t have people going in and getting a master’s degree in education. If we don’t have the faculty, it really limits the students we can take in.”

However, Tillman says help could be on the way, stating that the board is expecting between 4,000 to 4,200 registered nurse graduates in 2021 – numbers that are consistent with previous years’ totals.

She also says the board is making needed adjustments in order to get more nurses working as quickly as possible.

For example, this year’s graduating nurses won’t be required to take their license exam right away. Their background checks will also be waived, both of which will be done at a later date. This way, nurses can get into the field right after graduation, ready to work the frontline.

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