Where have all the nurses gone?

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) -  Nursing is something Taylor Geddes said she has wanted to do since she was nine years old.

Geddes graduated nursing school in May.  She is now a registered nurse, working with Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler.

Geddes said her hospital is constantly hiring new nurses.  "We sometimes have to take on seven patients because there's not enough of us," she said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services expects demand for registered nurses like Geddes to increase 86 percent between 2005 and 2020, but the supply of nurses is only expected to grow by 53 percent.  State health officials report part of the problem is that there are too few teachers and not enough clinic time for nurses to get hands-on experience.

But, some argue the issue is a bit different in East Texas.

"We can hire all the new graduates that we want," said Laurie Hartwig, a nurse and Human Resources representative with Mother Frances Hospital.

Hartwig said Tyler Junior College, UT Tyler, LeTourneau University, and Kilgore College all have solid nursing programs and provide hundreds of qualified, local graduates each year.

The challenge is keeping them, said Hartwig.

"[They are] predominantly women, and predominantly women of child bearing years," she explained.  Hartwig said that is one factor that effects retention, an area for which she was specifically hired to address.

She said the hospital is already offering incentives to keep their nurses, including the option of working flexible hours.

"Over the past 50 years, we've had these kinds of ebbs and flows" said Maria Kulma, a nurse and vice-president of patient services with East Texas Medical Center.  "I think our economy is probably the most challenged it's been."

But Kulma said East Texas is on top of the problem and welcomes the new nursing recruits, which tend to be younger than other nursing graduates across the country.

She said partnerships with local schools, and private businesses also help keep the local nursing supply high and highly qualified.

Tyler Junior College recently teamed up with ETMC and Trinity Mother Frances Hospital and Clinics to create a nursing training ground in Jacksonville.

Last year, Texas schools produced just over 8,200 registered nurses. The state health department estimates that number will need to be closer to 25,000 by 2020 to meet health care demands.

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