Increased need, diminished supply of nurses as boomers retire

Lawton_As baby boomers begin to retire, there may be a critical shortage of nurses to take care of them.  Sooner State officials say that Oklahoma faces a shortage of 3,000 nurses by 2012.  Along with a shortage of nurses, they also expect shortages of lab technicians, surgical technologists, and physical therapists.  "We're facing a crisis not only of increased need, but of diminishing supply," says Comanche County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Linda Leith.

Although there is an abundance of nursing students, the Associated Press reports that Oklahoma colleges currently accept less than 60% of qualified applicants to their nursing and healthcare programs.

Comanche County Memorial Hospital, and Southwestern Medical Center (SWMC), are recruiting nurses and healthcare workers with incentives, while Cameron University has built better facilities and is bringing in more staff to train nursing students they already have, and place them into hospitals more quickly.  "Nurses are there with people at the most intimate, most difficult, most exciting, most positive times in their lives," says CCMH Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Linda Leith.  "When someone comes into the world, there's a nurse there; when someone leaves this world, there's probably a nurse there."

Since there is a nursing shortage, universities across the state aren't hiring all nursing students who apply, partly because there is a shortage in faculty, and a lack of space.  But, that isn't the case at Cameron University.  "We've done a major renovation in Shepler towers to allow the University of Oklahoma to bring in more of their course work to provide education for nurses here in Lawton," says Cameron University's Vice President of Academic Affairs John McArthur.

Cameron has hired a full-time advisor to help nurses finish the program faster, SWMC is offering signing bonuses to nurses, and CCMH is rewarding nurses with yearly pay increases.  Both hospitals offer tuition reimbursement, scholarship programs, and clinical experience for students.

But, those who enter this job field say it's not about the money - they say it's about the patients.  "A lot of the nurses say that they stayed through the night, even after a shift, because this patient that they followed for weeks was dying, and there was no one to be there with them," says SWMC CNO Joben Rieth.  "You can ask almost any nurse, and they'll say that that's one of their fears.  They don't want a patient to die alone."

Nurses who spoke with 7News say that their jobs have changed who they are as people.  "At the end of the day, you can go home saying, 'I did make a difference in somebody's life," says Rieth.  "Whether it was that you saved their life, or you made it worth living.  It's a powerful kind of reward - truly powerful."

If you are interested in a job in the health care field, you can contact Comanche County Memorial Hospital, Southwestern Medical Center, or Cameron University, please find their telephone numbers below, or visit their websites.

Comanche County Memorial Hospital - 580-585-5406

Southwestern Medical Center - 580-531-4700

Cameron University - 580-581-2211