The only way New Mexico will begin to solve its worsening nursing shortage is to double the number of students who graduate from the state's nursing schools each year, a statewide group has concluded.

More than 70 people representing schools, healthcare providers, business organizations, professional organizations, state agencies and the New Mexico Legislature participated in a three-month process late last year called the Nursing Shortage Statewide Strategy Sessions. The sessions culminated in a conference sponsored by the state Commission on Higher Education and the UNM Health Sciences Center. The group recently released its report on the state of the nursing shortage and what must be done to alleviate it.

The state currently graduates about 500 new nurses per year. In addition to doubling that number, the group also recommends the state create a Center for Nursing Excellence, which will serve as a source of employment data and recruitment and retention strategies. The New Mexico Board of Nursing recently awarded a contract to the Consortium for Nursing Workforce Development to create the center.

New Mexico's nursing shortage is currently about 11 percent, and projections from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration indicate it will grow to 57 percent by the year 2025 if nothing is done to address it. The state presently has approximately 13,400 registered nurses (RNs) and 3,000 licensed practical nurses (LPNs) with only 4 to 6 percent unemployed; however, health care facilities continue to report growing numbers of vacancies they cannot fill. The shortage is blamed on a number of factors, including a need for nursing school faculty, an increasing number of nurses leaving the workforce due to retirement or job dissatisfaction, and the demand for more healthcare services.

The shortage of nurses affects all New Mexicans who need to access healthcare. During the last year, 72 percent of hospitals have curtailed services, meaning they have closed beds, diverted emergency patients, reduced services, shortened hours, or closed Intensive Care Units. The shortage also has caused cutbacks in service at home care agencies, long-term care facilities and public health offices.

To increase the number of nursing school graduates, the group urges expanding the capacity of nursing schools, creating new clinical sites where nursing students can perform their required rotations and providing more direct support to students to keep them from dropping out of what can be an extremely strenuous academic program.

And the work doesn't stop there, the group emphasizes. To keep graduates in New Mexico, the state must offer them financial incentives, career ladders and safe and healthy work environments.

One such incentive is the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program offered through the Health Resources And Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services. As an incentive for registered nurses to enter into full-time employment at these health facilities with a serious shortage of nurses, the program will assist in the repayment of their nursing education loans.

The Center for Nursing Excellence will be an important force in making the group's recommendations a reality. The center will promote communication between groups concerned with the nursing shortage, encouraging nursing employers to become part-time educators, for example. The center will also serve as a clearinghouse for financial aid information, maintain data on the state of nursing in New Mexico and devise strategies for attracting young people to the nursing profession and for recruiting and retaining nurses.

To receive a copy of the group's report, "Addressing New Mexico's Nursing Shortage: A Statewide Strategy Framework," please contact Tom Root, Senior Research & Policy Analyst with the state Commission on Higher Education, at (505) 827-7383.


Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322