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Experts: Arizona officials must address nursing shortage crisis


For the past three years, nurses in our community have been battled tested like never before.

Facing a situation that many only read about in textbooks, our local nurses have answered the call to service while carrying the emotional, mental and physical toll of the pandemic while being short-staffed.

The high level of patient demand nurses have endured throughout this pandemic has brought renewed focus to the workforce shortages within our health care delivery system.

Luckily, the Arizona Legislature passed and Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Joanne Osborne that will help address the immediate needs of the industry and establish short-term programs to get more nurses into the profession. Combined with investments included in the fiscal year 2023 budget, Arizona is now providing historic funding levels to address our health care workforce needs.

Arizona currently ranks in the top 5 states experiencing the most severe staffing shortage, due to a combination of employee burnout, a large number of nurses retiring, and a lack of trained nurses to replace those leaving the workplace. The average national vacancy rate for Registered Nurses in hospitals stands at approximately 10% and prior to the pandemic, 33% to 57% of new nurse graduates left their first job within the first two to three years.

Our workforce challenges predate the COVID-19 pandemic but were exacerbated by the incredible strain on our system impacting rural and urban communities as well as all types of health care facilities.

As the COVID-19 demand started in March of 2020, we were already at a staffing disadvantage. In 2019, more than 80,000 qualified degree-seeking applicants were turned away from educational institutions due to nursing faculty shortages, lack of clinical training sites and supervisors, and budget constraints. This is the current situation with nursing programs here in Arizona.

Our health care system is critical infrastructure for our rapidly growing state and a key economic driver. According to Arizona’s Office of Economic Opportunity, the health care and social assistance sector currently represents approximately 13.7% of the state’s workforce and is the leading sector of future job growth over the next decade. These are more examples of why this investment matters.

In addition to the historic investment from the state, the nursing workforce package addresses various aspects of the nursing workforce pipeline. Many of the new programs will be in partnership with higher education institutions that are focusing on increasing capacity within nurse education programs.

There is a lot that goes into educating and training a nurse, and most importantly retaining talent. In addition to coursework, hands-on experience is needed to ensure a nurse is ready and prepared to care for patients on day one. The workforce package also provides resources for nurse preceptorships so nurses can transition to actively providing patient care.

Nursing is an incredibly fulfilling profession and an important aspect of our state’s well-being and economy. We are grateful state leaders are investing in our nursing workforce to create a system to meet the needs of Arizonans.

About the authors

Heidi Sanborn, RN, is president of Arizona Nurses Association Board of Directors. Dawna L. Cato PhD., RN, NPD-BC is CEO of the Arizona Nurses Association.