Log in

Smith: How Arizona can solve the nursing shortage crisis


For more than three decades, I have been part of a team helping to lead change as a nurse administrator and prepare the next generation of nursing professionals as a nursing professor and dean.

Like the other 5.2 million registered nurses and nearly 25,000 nurse educators nationwide, I believe nursing is truly a calling.

But despite the vast number of nurses in the field — we comprise America’s largest number of workers in health care and one of the largest workforces as a whole — nursing continues to face crisis. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for nursing professionals to grow by 6% through 2032 — faster than the average for all occupations.

The situation is equally dire in Arizona. Our state will have more than 195,000 openings for registered nurses between now and 2031. This shortage could have widespread implications, including delays in care, clinical errors and potentially higher patient mortality rates.

Those living in rural and tribal areas of our state could be hit especially hard considering that nurses are primary providers of hospital patient care and deliver most of the nation’s long-term care. You may be wondering why so many nurses are needed now.

The median age of an RN in the United States is 46. Yet, a 2022 national nursing workforce study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing noted that one-quarter of those working in the field said they would leave their jobs or retire within the next five years.

Demographics are changing, too, requiring more care for an aging population. And nursing school enrollment has not kept up with the demand for these professionals. In its 2022-2023 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing report, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing noted that U.S. nursing schools turned away 65,766 qualified applications from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2023 due to a lack of clinical sites, faculty, preceptors, classroom space and budget cuts.

In Arizona, the healthcare community has banded together to put more nurses on the front lines of care. For example, the Arizona Department of Health Services awarded $43.1 million to five schools with ABSN programs to add 900 nursing students.

There is also a Student Nurse/New Graduate Clinical Placements & Preceptor Training Pilot Grant Program, which aims to improve and increase the capacity of clinical placements and preceptor training for nursing students, newly licensed nurses and nursing assistants.

GCU has a 40-year tradition of filling evolving roles in direct care, management, health education and administration on our main campus in Phoenix. In 2020, we launched our ABSN program in Sun City.

Rooted in the university’s Christian principles, the hybrid program combines the fundamentals and theories of nursing through an online platform, plus hands-on nursing skills, immersive simulation experiences, and patient-centered care in clinical and community settings.

Since then, and based on the program’s success — including a 95.54% 2023 aggregated AZ first-time student pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) that exceeds state and national averages — our ABSN program has expanded and now includes satellite sites in Sun City, Chandler, West Phoenix and Tucson, along with Nevada and Utah. New sites are expected to open in Missouri and Idaho this fall.

The nursing industry is making progress, yet there is still much to do.

Nursing is a noble profession with excellent pay, benefits and an opportunity to give back to something bigger than yourself. Whether you are just getting started or are interested in a career change, we welcome you to discover the joys of nursing and become an indispensable part of America’s growing healthcare system.

Dr. Lisa Smith is dean of Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions.