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Association tackling persistent nursing shortage in state

Mississippi nursing faculty just received a $6,000 pay raise effective July 1, thanks to the Mississippi Legislature, but healthcare professionals agree that more work needs to be done to tackle the nursing shortage issue.

“With 70 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., the healthcare system in this country is going to be overwhelmed,” said Mississippi Nurses Association (MNA) executive director Ricki Garrett. “Already, there is a nursing shortage, and the need for nurses will only increase.”

Nationally, the vacancy rate for nurses will increase from about 7% to 29% by the year 2010. In Mississippi, the vacancy rate varies between about 7% in the urban areas like Jackson to about 20% in the Delta and other rural underserved areas, said Garrett.

“At the present time, we’re turning away several thousand prospective nursing students at our colleges and universities due to a lack of faculty,” she said. “That problem will be exacerbated next year when we anticipate losing a fourth of the nursing faculty, primarily to retirement. It’s been suggested that nursing faculty represent an endangered species and that within a decade, they could become extinct. Of course, we are not going to let that happen, but it’s going to take some innovative steps to entice nurses into academia.

“First of all, the salaries are so low for nursing faculty that nurses can make $10,000 to $20,000 more working in a hospital, and, in some cases, can make twice as much. The Mississippi Nurses Association has recently been successful in lobbying the Mississippi Legislature for a $6,000 pay raise for nursing faculty at the public colleges and universities, beginning on July 1. We believe that the Legislature is committed to further helping with an additional $6,000 pay raise next year.”

MNA lobbyist Betty Dickson said the Mississippi Legislature is to be commended for its support of nursing legislation.

“Both the House of Representatives and the Senate leadership are on record to continue this initiative to help the nursing shortage,” said Dickson. “Both chairmen of appropriations, Jack Gordon, Senate, and Johnny Stringer, said they would follow up next year with additional pay raises to make nursing faculty salaries more competitive.”

Originally, nursing asked the Legislature for a $12,000 pay raise over a three-year period.

“Legislators made a big step in making this happen in two years,” said Dickson. For example, “upon graduation from nursing programs, many students make as much as $15,000 more than their faculty. Currently, 25% of nursing faculty are eligible for retirement and are choosing that path to continue working at much higher salaries. Many have said a pay raise will keep them on the job.”

The MNA, at the request of the deans and directors council, and with the assistance of the Office of Nursing Workforce, convened a faculty shortage task force that developed recommendations to address the shortage. The faculty pay raise was one of those recommendations. The Mississippi Hospital Association, in conjunction with the MNA, has commissioned a white paper on the nursing faculty shortage, which will be released this fall and will launch the next phase of initiatives to address the shortage, explained Garrett.

“The task force will be developing a proposal to increase the student capacity at each of the schools of nursing, perhaps using an innovative model utilized in the Georgia higher education system,” she said. “We’re also looking at other issues that directly impact the nursing shortage, such as retention and graduation of nursing students, promoting a safe and rewarding workplace, the development of nurse leaders and managers, among others. We must take a proactive stance on the nursing shortage issue in order to meet the needs of the next decade and beyond. Hopefully, by working collaboratively with other healthcare providers, public officials, educational institutions and others, we’ll be able to effectively provide a nursing workforce that is the best it has ever been.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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