Nebraska needs more nurses — many more. Demand is high in the state’s metropolitan areas of Omaha and Lincoln, but the shortfall, relative to population, is especially severe in much of rural Nebraska.
Nursing programs at colleges and universities across the state have implemented innovative strategies to address the shortage. Enrollment in recent years has been notably on the rise. Creighton University’s nursing program, for example, saw a pre-COVID increase of about 35% over three years. And the number of nurses in Nebraska has long been on a significant upswing.
Still, the gains haven’t been enough to close the gap. The sparsity of nurses in much of rural Nebraska is a particular concern. Eleven rural counties, in recent surveys, reported zero registered nurses; nine counties, no licensed practical nurses; and eight counties, no nurses of either kind. Most of these counties are in the Sandhills.
In all, the latest report from the Nebraska Center for Nursing says, Nebraska needs nearly 4,200 more nurses to meet statewide demand. That shortfall is equivalent to more than 14% of the 28,556 total nursing positions currently filled statewide.
By 2025, the center projects, the statewide nursing shortfall to stand at 5,436 positions.
Meanwhile, the percentage of the state’s population in the senior-age category continues to grow. In 2010, Nebraska was home to 246,000 residents ages 65 and older. By 2030, demographers say, the number will be 418,000.
Our state needs a robust, well-trained nursing community to meet this growing need. Nurse training across the state, to its credit, has responded with some worthwhile strategies. Just this month, UNMC announced that it is partnering with Central Community College (with facilities in Grand Island, Columbus and Kearney) so that the community college’s two-year registered nursing graduates can complete a four-year bachelor of nursing degree through UNMC. The program will provide the instruction remotely, so students can continue to work in their communities’ health care sector while strengthening their professional credentials. UNMC will recruit and admit students to the program and offer advising and send instructors to Central Community College for on-site support.
As a result, said Dr. Dele Davies, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, “we are adding value and increasing opportunities for future expanded roles and career advancement for the student. We want to add value to the communities we are in.”
UNMC is pursuing a variety of strategies to boost nursing numbers. Its School of Nursing has campuses in Scottsbluff, Kearney and Norfolk and collaborative programs with Nebraska’s state colleges in Chadron, Peru and Wayne. Over more than 20 years, 45% of the graduates of those programs have chosen to practice in rural Nebraska, UNMC says.
The med center this year began offering two new nursing education programs: a new master’s degree program, and an initiative to facilitate Nebraska certification of nurses who were trained abroad.
The Creighton College of Nursing has provided instruction for more than three decades at its Grand Island campus. Creighton has nursing education partnerships with York College and Hastings College. Creighton nursing students have clinical experiences at CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island, CHI Health Good Samaritan and Richard Young Behavioral Health in Kearney and Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings.
Such efforts are crucial to see that all Nebraskans, no matter where they live, receive the health care they deserve.