TTU's School of Nursing described as 'regional resource'
"Tennessee Tech University's School of Nursing is a regional resource that benefits not only Cookeville Regional Medical Center, but every health care facility and patient in the Upper Cumberland."
That's how Bernie Mattingly, CRMC's chief operating officer, describes the role of TTU's nursing program in the community — and he says that role will likely be intensified in light of a projected national nursing shortage that could mean as many as one million job openings for nurses by 2010.
"A nursing shortage will cause a domino effect in the health care industry. The greater the shortage, the farther most health care facilities will have to go outside their region or state to recruit qualified job candidates," Mattingly said.
But with TTU's School of Nursing located less than two miles from CRMC, half of all the nurses currently working at the facility are graduates of the nearby university.
Not all health care centers in the nation, however, can boast such an advantage, said Linda Crawford, CRMC's vice president of patient care services.
"At a recent conference I attended, a director of nursing for a hospital in Phoenix said he — at that very moment — had 275 openings for registered nurses," she said. "So there's a nursing shortage in all areas of nursing, however, it is even worse in areas such as prison nursing and mental health facilities."
Another factor contributing to the overall nursing shortage, Crawford said, is that the baby boomer generation is aging at a time when fewer individuals are choosing nursing as a profession.
"There's just not enough nurses coming along to take care of the surge of aging baby boomers," she said.
Marilyn Musacchio, TTU's Dean of Nursing, said that althought nursing has traditionally been a female-dominated profession, more women now are opting for careers in once male-dominated professions such as law, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and technology.
"More women are choosing nine-to-five office jobs instead of choosing to work as nurses because they mistakenly think these other fields offer better career opportunities or better job security than nursing does," she said.
At the same time, men and individuals from minority racial and ethnic groups continue to be underrepresented in the profession. According to a 2001 survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, the nursing workforce is made up of only 5.4 percent men and 12.3 percent minorities.
While these trends can be altered somewhat by student recruitment programs, such as TTU's nursing student ambassadors, many nurse educators say they feel the pending shortage is a symptom of an underlying problem that can only be corrected by a revolution in the health care industry.
"When so many aspects of the health care system are in disarray, we are forced to acknowledge that the fundamental problem in health care is that we have a dysfunctional health care industry," said Joanne Disch, director of the Katherine J. Densford International Center for Nursing Leadership at the University of Minnesota.
Both Musacchio and Crawford admit that there are no easy answers for an issue so complex, but they say they are thankful for resources like TTU's School of Nursing that have so far helped prevent such an extreme nursing shortage in the Upper Cumberland area.
"The Upper Cumberland region is incredibly more blessed in that respect than many areas of the state and nation. Although we've felt some of the repercussions of the projected nursing shortage, we haven't felt them near as much as they've been felt in other locations," Crawford said.
Writer's note: In recognition of the week of Monday, May 6, as National Nurses Week, this is the final article in a series of three about the impact of the projected nursing shortage and the facilities need at TTU's School of Nursing on the university, local hospitals and health care offices and the community in general.