Oklahoma nurse numbers decline

Tuesday, June 3rd 2008, 7:28 pm
By: News 9

By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9

Nurses are often the first line of defense for those seeking health care. The number of nurses is steadily declining, across the country, including Oklahoma.

The reason for the shortage isn't a lack of interest in the field, but a lack of qualified nursing instructors. Administrators at the Oklahoma City Kramer School of Nursing are now in the midst of working to attract and retain its instructors.

The ink was barely dry on Matthew Fenton's degree before the offers started pouring in.

"I had offers at the VA over at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, St. Anthony's and over at INTEGRIS Baptist too," Fenton said.

He's one of nearly 100 graduates from the Kramer School of Nursing and he was one of the lucky ones to even get into a program. There are not enough professors available to teach.

"We had 57 percent of qualified applicants who were interested and qualified for nursing and allied health schools who weren't able to get into programs because of the clog in the educational pipeline," Cheryl McLain with the Oklahoma Health Care Workforce Center said.

McLain cites salary as a factor.

"If you're a nurse, and go to work in a hospital, you're paid two or three times as much, on average, than those working in education," McLain said.

Those in the classroom aren't inclined to stay, according to Professor Lois Salmeron.

"The average age of doctoral prepared faculty is in its 50s, and most of them are going to retire within the next five years," Salmeron said.

The school is now working to attract new professors and retain the current staff. Among the ideas considered are decreasing the workload and educating the existing professors on the new technology. As for Fenton, he can't wait to start his new job.

"Looking back, this is one of the best decisions I ever made," Fenton said.

Kramer said it never turns away any applicants as long as they meet the guidelines.

Nurses aren't the only health care professionals on the decline. Physical therapists and lab technicians are also in high demand.