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University of Kansas School of Nursing launches statewide conversations with nursing stakeholders to discuss dire nursing shortage

Decision-makers in nursing gathered in Topeka to discuss the nursing crisis in Kansas.

nursing students learning from instructors in the simulation lab
Shortages of nurses at all levels has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the retirement of baby boomers. Data show that Kansas will be short more than 50,000 nurses and nursing aides by 2026.

The University of Kansas School of Nursing convened an in-person meeting earlier this month with stakeholders from across Kansas to launch a statewide conversation about the dire nursing shortage and related crises. It was the first (and the largest) of what’s planned to be numerous conversations and a collaborative effort with multiple organizations to address a critical and growing problem.

“The nursing profession is in crisis — both nationally and in Kansas,” said Sally L. Maliski, Ph.D., FAAN, dean of the University of Kansas School of Nursing.

Maliski said the problem is on track to get worse as the pandemic’s negative effect on nurses, combined with the number of baby boomers retiring, means that the entire profession is facing challenges at all levels like never before.

“Statistics show how critical the situation is,” Maliski said. “The Kansas Department of Labor’s 2022 Occupational Outlook report shows that by 2026, we will need more than 28,000 nursing assistants, 18,000 registered nurses and 6,000 home health aides. Rural Kansas hospitals are facing nursing shortages that could mean hospital closures. These looming problems keep me up at night.”

“Nursing schools graduate only about 10% of the nurses needed to stem this tide. Simply put, we will not educate our way out of these shortages. We must find solutions that tackle the whole picture including education, retention and pipeline. They are systemic problems that require a broad stakeholder coalition to work together so that Kansas can access nurses when and where they are needed.”

Heather Nelson-Brantley at podiium with data on factors contributing to the nursing shortage projected on screen in the background
Leaders in higher education, hospital administration and other interested agencies convened in Topeka to brainstorm possible solutions to the nursing shortage. Heather Nelson-Brantley, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor of nursing at KU, presented data on the situation. Photo courtesy of Michelle Keller, AVP, University of Kansas

Nursing educators, hospital administrators and representatives of state agencies interested in the nursing workforce issue gathered in Topeka March 21 to brainstorm solutions and seek opportunities.

“What was hopeful about this meeting is that we had players from all over (the state) talking about what we need to do,” said Terry Siek, MSN, chief nursing officer and vice president for patient care at Hays Medical Center. “We asked, ‘what do we need to do to make nursing successful in Kansas.’ We need a better image. We need to figure out the pipeline issue. We need to figure out retention. We need to figure out how to make it easier to become licensed. There are all these factors that make it hard to become a nurse.”

Attendees comprised representatives of numerous Kansas institutions of higher education, including Emporia State University, Pittsburg State University, Washburn University and Wichita State University. Also present were representatives from state and local agencies concerned with nursing and workforce issues, including the Kansas Hospital Association, Kansas State Board of Nursing and the Kansas Board of Regents.

“(It’s significant) that we could have these policymakers here, we could have governmental agencies here, all working toward the same vision,” said Jaron Caffrey, project manager for workforce strategies at the Kansas Hospital Association. “We're not just talking about the problem. We’re actually looking at how can we create a solution. I think that was a surprisingly positive thing.”

Conversations will continue, with recommendations including discussion of a statewide center to gather and centralize efforts to address the issue from many angles.

“The common theme among all the (other nursing workforce) centers we talked to is that we need diverse perspectives at the table,” said Amy Garcia, DNP, FAAN, associate clinical professor and director of practice at KU School of Nursing. “These are systemic problems, and they are going to require systemic solutions.”

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