The demand for nurses continues to rise in Florida with colleges trying to devise methods of getting more nurses to graduate in the profession. Since 2013, vacancies have risen and by the end of this year, about 10,000 new positions for registered nurses are expected to have been added. Yet despite the call for more nurses and the University of Central Florida and some state colleges running nursing programs that are highly regarded, qualified applicants are regularly rejected because expanding their programs is unaffordable. This year, of the 306 students who applied and met the admission requirements at UCF’s College of Nursing, more than fifty percent were denied entry, with 126 given the opportunity of enrolling in the nursing program on its main Orlando campus. The remainder of the qualifying students were urged to try and find places in nursing programs at local state colleges or satellite campuses of UCF.
The situation speaks volumes. Schools in Florida are unable to teach all potential nurses as long as hospitals and health-care facilities constantly hire and offer numerous jobs, with experienced registered nurses being able to receive incentive bonuses of up to $10,000. According to retired nurse and hospital administrator Anne Peach, who was previously vice president for patient care at Orlando Health, a solution needs to be found. There is a real shortage of registered nurses which will continue over time, unless there is further intervention. Valencia College recently appointed Peach to form a group of administrators from colleges and hospitals in the region, as a joint effort in trying to find ways of solving the nursing shortfall. Associate dean of nursing for Seminole State, Cheryl Sciotti, reported that feedback from local hospitals has revealed that over and above the number that presently graduate, 1,000 more new nurses could be employed by them per year. She added that they are usually scooped up very quickly while still in nursing school!
According to the Florida Center for Nursing, at the end of 2015 about 12,500 vacancies existed for registered nurses in the region. The center was informed by hospitals and other health-care providers that this year, a number of new jobs exceeding 9,900 would be added, of which more than 2,100 would be in Central Florida. The shortage of nurses is being exacerbated by an ever increasing aging population, with retirements adding to the problem. Valencia’s dean of nursing, Rise Sandrowirz, said that colleges are investigating various methods of further development, such as possibly arranging classes in a hospital environment or running extra programs during the evening or weekend.
However, if the demand for new nurses is to be met, colleges will also need an injection of state funding, according to James Henningsen, president of the College of Central Florida based in Ocala. Henningsen added that even if the size of the program was doubled today, it still would not meet the requirements. It is no longer a critical scenario, but more of an emergency. Running nursing programs on a state college campus is a costly exercise that affects universities as well, because small faculty-to-student ratios and expensive laboratories are required. Colleges and universities are also being prompted to pay particular attention to academic programs that will prepare graduates for jobs that pay well. A bachelor degree in nursing can achieve a starting salary of more than $50,000 for a new graduate.
The tight competition for places in state nursing programs, has led to some students registering with private schools. Apart from these programs being expensive, with some fees reaching $40,000 per annum, they also have widely differing standards. An example is the nursing results at ITT Technical Institute’s Lake Mary campus, where the education of thousands of students nationwide was recently put on hold, when it suddenly shut down all its facilities. According to the Florida Department of Health, those who completed a nursing program at the Lake Mary ITT campus and took part in the national nurse licensing exam in 2015, achieved a pass rate of only 52 percent, whereas Seminole State, UCF and Valencia recorded pass rates exceeding 95 percent. Karla Muniz, Senior Director of Talent Acquisition-Human Resources at Florida Hospital reported that colleges in the region are a good source of new nurses, but the search for new talent goes on forever. This is especially pertinent when a hospital opens new facilities. Recruitment from state universities in other areas of Florida is also carried out by the hospital organization, as well as trying to entice experienced nurses from other parts of the country. Hiring nurses is a never-ending task!