Report Examines Nursing Supply and Demand in Virginia

Posted: April 6, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Amy Biderman

Meeting current and future demands for nurses and nursing faculty in the commonwealth is the subject of a new report by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). “Condition of Nursing and Nursing Education in the Commonwealth” finds that Virginia has a growing shortage of nurses and nursing faculty that will worsen over time. P.J. Maddox, director of the Office of Research in the Center for Health Policy, Research, and Ethics, conducted the study that served as the basis for the SCHEV report. She was chosen as the study’s principal investigator because of her knowledge of the health workforce and experience in health services research.

P.J. Maddox
P.J. Maddox
Photo by Evan Cantwell

The greatest shortage of nurses is in the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas, and shortages in adjacent states are expected to exacerbate the problem. At the same time, the capacity of Virginia’s nursing programs is inadequate to meet projected demand. By the year 2020, the demand for full-time RNs will exceed 70,000, while the supply will be 47,000–a 32 percent shortage.

Mandated last year by the legislature (House Bill 2818), the report provides the first comprehensive analysis of nursing supply and demand in Virginia. “Other studies on nursing were primarily anecdotal,” says Maddox, who is also a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Science. “This study furnishes the data needed to back up observations that Virginia has a growing nursing shortage.”

Maddox notes that the report is unique because of its short timeline–data were collected over a two-month period last summer. The project required collaboration and cooperation with many entities, including government agencies and private organizations, from the state board of nursing to nursing schools, employers, and educational institutions. “This was a massive data collection effort, which required cooperation and support from various individuals and groups,” she says. It was also “an interdisciplinary project that benefited from the knowledge and expertise of many colleagues,” she adds. Professor David Wong of Mason’s School of Computational Sciences provided geographic analyses, and Tim Dall of the Lewin Group served as consulting economist.

“The nursing shortage has been discussed for years, but it was not until this report linked the supply and demand for nurses that action was taken,” says JoAnne Henry, director, Office of Health Policy, Virginia Commonwealth University, and chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on the Future of Nursing. “P.J. Maddox provided the skill and leadership to produce a report that will guide Virginia through the next 10 years.”

The report provides a strategic plan for nursing demand, with the goal of increasing the number of graduates from the state’s nursing degree programs by 15 percent in two years and an additional 35 percent within 12 years. General recommendations include:

  • Increase the enrollment capacity for nursing education programs, as well as the number of nurse educators

  • Provide scholarships and loan repayment programs to promising nursing students who need financial assistance
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive nursing recruitment plan for the commonwealth targeted at underrepresented populations
  • Improve data collection on nurse employment, age, and education level

Nancy Cooley, SCHEV academic affairs director, points out that the report highlights the magnitude of the crisis Virginia’s healthcare system will face if nothing is done to increase the number of qualified nurses practicing in the commonwealth. “The citizens of Virginia have the right to expect not only adequate healthcare, but also quality healthcare,” she says. “This care should not be compromised because of an insufficient number of new nursing graduates.”

“Many folks accept that an aging population needs more health care providers, particularly nurses,” says Barbara Brown, vice president, Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. “What is news to most is that Virginia’s general population growth and economic expansion drive a growing demand for nurses more than aging. It is clear from this study that the short answer to ‘Where will nurses be needed?’ is ‘Everywhere.'”

Maddox hopes the study will encourage various parties to focus on the importance of increasing the supply of nurses in Virginia and explore ways to keep nurses in the workforce longer. She notes that the shortage of nurses could have uneven adverse consequences on local communities throughout Virginia.

“This report should help business planners, educators, and politicians understand the importance of health workforce development and how to deal with the nurse shortage in Virginia,” she says. “We need to do more to strengthen the higher education budget to not only expand nurse supply, but also to prepare the next generation of nursing faculty and [implement] the educational innovations that will be required to achieve this goal.”

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