Viewpoints

California faces a nursing shortage. Let’s remove obstacles to prevent emergency

Nurses form the bedrock of health care in our state, touching the lives of virtually every Californian. They serve on the front lines of patient care across a variety of settings – from hospitals and patients’ homes to war zones and schools – and they care for all patients regardless of background.

Despite our many talented nurses and the accredited in-state institutions that prepare them for a lifetime of health care employment, California is plunging into a nursing shortage. By 2030, the state is projected to suffer from a deficit of approximately 140,000 nurses, according to the American Journal of Medical Quality. This would be one of the nation’s largest shortfalls.

Surprisingly enough, this shortfall is not due to a lack of people who want to become nurses. There are countless stories of aspiring nursing students facing great obstacles when trying to complete their degree in a timely manner and meet all the requirements.

Veronica Gelfman is one of these students. When pursuing a change in careers as a registered nurse, Veronica encountered difficulties in finding a nursing school that she could graduate from before she was 30.

After struggling to get into required classes at one school, Veronica decided to enroll at a private institution in Southern California accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. West Coast University offered her the opportunity to receive her degree and become a nurse by the time she was 29. If Veronica had not found WCU, her entry into the workforce as a registered nurse would have been delayed further worsening this shortage.

Opinion

To avoid this onrushing emergency, we must address the context in which it is unfolding: Thousands of Californians can’t find nursing education options in our state. This means they must attend out-of-state school because they can’t secure a seat in a California nursing program. As a result, we export nursing students to neighboring states, only to later import them as traveling nurses. Today, California is already the nation’s biggest employer of traveling nurses.

That is unacceptable. As the world’s fifth-largest economy, we should have the resources and infrastructure needed to ensure we can train sufficient talent to meet the ballooning demand. It has become clear a significant impediment to increasing capacity in California’s professionally-accredited nursing programs results from bureaucratic redundancies that limit their reasonable growth.

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Blanca E. Rubio

That’s why I authored Assembly Bill 1364, the California Nursing Initiative. It would enlarge the state’s capacity to train the nurses of tomorrow by improving the way we oversee accredited programs in California today.

A key barrier this initiative seeks to fix involves the California Board of Registered Nursing’s (BRN) processes, which limit the number of students who can attend California schools.

That’s right: During a nursing shortage, California is limiting student access to education programs by capping enrollment. At the same time, BRN’s own data shows that approximately 20,000 qualified students are turned away each year.

We don’t cap the number of students attending law school or medical school. Yet a board of non-elected officials is limiting the number of students who can pursue a nursing degree.

My bill would remove these bureaucratic roadblocks and allow more students to earn their nursing degree in California. Ultimately, it can help reverse California’s nursing shortage.

In combination with pointless administrative and financial burdens on schools (as well as on state government), the BRN processes targeted for reform by AB 1364 are detrimental to health care in California.

Loosening the unnecessary constriction of our nurse talent pipeline will not only keep California’s students in the state where there is a clear need for talent, but also will benefit diverse underserved communities that often lack access to quality health care. These include Spanish-English bilingual nurses, for whom demand is at an all-time high.

Assemblywoman Blanca E. Rubio represents California’s 48th Assembly District, encompassing parts of the eastern San Gabriel Valley.
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