May 23, 2003

VUSN given grant to examine nationwide nursing shortage

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Peter I. Buerhaus, Ph.D.

VUSN given grant to examine nationwide nursing shortage

Vanderbilt School of Nursing’s Peter I. Buerhaus, Ph.D. has been awarded a grant by Johnson & Johnson to evaluate the success of its recent $20 million national campaign to increase the number of nurses in America.

Buerhaus, Valere Potter Professor of Nursing, has been involved in helping Johnson & Johnson design the campaign by organizing a survey of American public opinion on the nursing profession and the shortage.

Buerhaus says findings from the survey indicate the American public doesn’t really know what today’s nurse is capable of. “Americans respect, admire and trust nurses, but they are mostly unaware of all that they do. We need to educate people and talk about the variety of specialties nursing has to offer,” Buerhaus said.

Dr. Robert S. Dittus, Albert and Bernard Werthan Professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Health Services Research, Linda Norman, D.S.N., senior associate dean for Academics, David Auerbach, from the HHS Research Division, and Karen Donelan, Sc.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital, are collaborating with Buerhaus on this effort.

In other research, Buerhaus and his team will be asking new nursing students why they chose to study nursing, what else they might have been considering, and whether or not they have seen commercials about the campaign or heard about it.

“This will help us get a sense of the next generation of nursing students,” Buerhaus said, “and find out whether and how the campaign has influenced these new nurses.”

Norman said she’s confident the Johnson & Johnson campaign will help recruit nurses nationwide. “They have helped to stimulate people in a wide variety of places. I really think they have had an impact, but we are going to take a rigorous research approach to see exactly what their involvement has done,” said Norman.

The campaign aired TV commercials about the nursing profession during the 2002 Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl to educate viewers and entice more students. Brochures were sent to every high school in the United States, and the Web site was created to educate prospective students.

Nancy Lewin, Executive Director of Corporate Equity and the Nursing Campaign and New Ventures for Johnson & Johnson, said her company is committed to the cause. “Our credo encompasses commitment to the community in which we live and work, and to respond first to the doctors, nurses, patients and all who use our services,” said Lewin. “Originally we said we were going to spend $20 million and it’s been more like $30 million, and we’re in the process of planning a 10-year commitment to address the nursing shortage.”

Lewin says the campaign will continue to focus on three key areas: improving the image of the nursing profession, recruiting new nurses of all ethnic backgrounds, and retaining them.

Next fall, Buerhaus and his research team plan to survey teachers and guidance counselors in high schools across the country as part of the grant, to find out if they are using tools provided by the campaign.

“We hear that for some time guidance counselors weren’t telling kids about nursing because they didn’t think it was a promising career,” Buerhaus said.

Lewin agrees. “We found historically when someone says they want to be a nurse, you have someone telling them ‘don’t be a nurse, you could be a doctor.’”

Buerhaus says the campaign is going well, but says there is an even greater problem brewing.

“Nearly 6,000 nursing students were turned away last year because we have a faculty shortage even greater than the workforce shortage,” Buerhaus said. “Enrollment into nursing schools fell 4 percent to 6 percent each year between 1995 and 2000, but last year increased 8 percent, in part due to Johnson & Johnson’s efforts. But we need enrollments to go up 50 percent, and how are we going to do that?”

He says because the education system doesn’t have the capacity to accept all qualified applicants it’s impossible to produce enough nurses to replace the aging and retiring nursing workforce, let alone expand the total number of registered nurses needed in the future. “If you know there’s a shortage and you can’t get into a nursing education program, that’s very frustrating,” he said.

Buerhaus says the recent Nurse Reinvestment Act passed by Congress and signed by President Bush is a start, including provisions to create public service announcements about nursing, offer loan repayment and scholarship programs, and other efforts, but says the $20 million Congress put behind the bill will not make a dent in the nursing shortage. “The amount is appreciated, but wholly inadequate to address the seriousness of the problem,” he said.

Buerhaus says it will take continued investment by the private sector, like the campaign from Johnson & Johnson, as well as a newly designed commitment from Congress to assure that enough registered nurses are available to meet current and future demands.