Our nation is facing a serious nursing shortage, one that is projected to worsen in the coming years. Here in Maine, there are more than 1,000 nursing vacancies, a number that is expected to balloon to more than 5,200 during the next 15 years. At a time when baby boomers are reaching retirement, and as more and more people are living longer with increasing health care needs, the ramifications of this shortage are troubling.
|Senator Susan Collins represents the State of Maine in the United States Senate.|
This shortage is evident throughout our country, in small towns and large cities. Less well known is the shortage that exists in the military. Neither the Army nor the Air Force has met its active service nurse recruitment goals since the 1990s. In 2006, the Air Force, Army, and Navy experienced overall nurse vacancy rates of 15 percent, 8 percent, and 9.6 percent, respectively. The need for qualified nurses in military health care facilities is even more crucial in light of the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There certainly is no shortage, in civilian life or the military, of caring individuals willing to undertake the rigorous training required to become a nurse. The primary barrier to increasing our nursing workforce is a severe and growing shortage of openings in nursing schools. Our nursing schools are currently forced to turn away thousands of qualified applicants each year, largely because of faculty shortages. Without more nurse faculty, additional nurses cannot be educated. Without more nurses, the shortage will continue, placing the civilian and military health care delivery systems at risk.
In order to address this crisis, I have joined with a number of my Senate colleagues to introduce the Troops to Nurse Teachers Act of 2008. Modeled after the successful Troops to Teachers program, this bipartisan legislation would offer incentives to nurses who have finished their military service to become full-time nurse faculty members. The goal is to increase the number of nurse faculty members so nursing schools can expand enrollments to help alleviate the ongoing nurse shortage in both the civilian and military sectors.
Among these incentives is a fellowship program through which nurse officers in the armed forces, with a graduate degree in nursing, would serve a two-year tour of duty as a full-time faculty member at an accredited school of nursing. In exchange for this non-salaried instructor, the school would provide ROTC-type scholarships for nursing students who agree to serve as a nurse officer in the military, or the nurse would pledge to serve an additional four years in the military.
This legislation also would establish a scholarship program. A nurse officer who has served at least 20 years on active duty and is eligible for retirement could qualify for a scholarship to attend an accredited school of nursing with the intent of becoming nurse faculty member.
In addition, a transitional assistance program would expedite the changeover for military nurses moving to faculty positions, and a retired nurse officer program would ensure that retired military nurses who are appointed to nursing-school faculties would continue to receive their full retirement pay, along with a stipend so that their faculty salary is commensurate with that of their civilian colleagues.
I have long been a strong advocate for increased investments to recruit, train, and retain nurses. The Troops to Nurse Teachers Act will help alleviate this shortage in both civilian and military settings, and will ensure that the expertise and compassion of nurses who serve in uniform can continue to serve our country.