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Nursing students enter the College of Nursing building after the stethoscope ceremony Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 at MUSC. 

The Post and Courier recently reported projections about a future nursing shortage. Essentially, there’s good and not-so-good news as well as challenges and opportunities.

The good news is that at MUSC College of Nursing, we understand that graduating nurses typically remain in states where they are trained. Our focus is on a particular type of student — one who wishes to excel in the nursing profession, one who has the will to discover new approaches and exceed expectations, one who can change what’s possible in the lives of his or her patients and actively shape the health care of tomorrow. The MUSC College of Nursing has a long and distinguished history of more than 130 years preparing the finest professional nurses who care, cure and create new knowledge in improving the health of individuals, families and communities. We educate more than 570 students each year who earn baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Nearly half of our nursing students receive their education and training entirely through our academically and technologically advanced online program. In 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked our online graduate nursing program No. 3 in the country, and it has held one of the top two spots in the nation four years in a row.

Proudly, more than 64 percent of the 192 students admitted each year to our Accelerated Bachelor of Science Nursing program are in-state students. Our ABSN graduates are highly sought after to fill top-notch positions where they assimilate seamlessly and fill leadership roles in a variety of urban and community health care settings. MUSC-trained nurses who practice in much-needed rural and under-served areas are critical to supporting community-based prevention and wellness programs, providing continuity of care as people transition and navigate services and resources across care settings, promoting population health, reducing health disparities and improving patient-centered health outcomes.

Additional good news is that as the requirements and demand for bachelor’s-prepared nurses have increased, so have the opportunities to assist associate degree nurses to enroll and complete their bachelor’s degree. Our RN-BSN curriculum is an online 12-month program with a target enrollment of 60 students (nearly 96 percent are local or from South Carolina) with the ability to expand this program. Graduates of our ABSN and RN-BSN programs receive focused training in leadership, care coordination, critical thinking and decision-making and learn the skills essential for today’s complex health care system. We train as many South Carolinians as we can through current resources and innovative programs, including telehealth, to meet the increasing demand for nursing expertise throughout the state.

The not-so-good news is that while nurses make up the single-largest health discipline in the U.S. health care workforce, nursing has historically seen cyclical, long-term and periodic shortages when many national, state and local factors fail to allow supply and demand to keep pace with the health needs of citizens. These lead to challenges as we try to meet the demand for nurses in our state.

Some of these challenges include changes in health care acuity, care delivery and reimbursement, and more people dealing with multiple chronic conditions with fewer nurses to provide care, including the large numbers of aging baby boomers. In South Carolina, we are also experiencing rapid population growth and changing demographics, a need for innovative care to support those living below the poverty level (roughly 20 percent) and living in rural areas, increased retirement of baby boomer nurses, and expanded practice authority for advanced practice nurses. The state Legislature recently passed a bill to expand the authority of advanced practice nurses. Our legislators clearly recognized the important role these nurses have in improving access to primary care, managing chronic health problems, reducing health care costs, preventing re-hospitalization, and meeting the health care challenges of rural and under-served areas throughout the state. The law not only allows these nurses to practice within the full extent of their education and training, it also provides a new opportunity for out-of-state nurses to consider moving to South Carolina, thus increasing the supply here.

The College of Nursing prepares graduate nurses as faculty to teach in universities and colleges; after all, if we don’t have enough educators, we can’t produce more nurses. Since 2014, U.S. News & World Report has ranked our online graduate nursing programs in the top three in the country, and we educate more doctoral-prepared nurses than any other program in the state, providing a pipeline of doctoral-prepared nurses who assume leadership and teaching positions throughout the country and our state, effectively tackling the shortage issue from another angle.

What’s most important for South Carolinians to remember is that at MUSC, and in other statewide nursing programs, we are aware of these shortage predictions, and as a result, we are continually evaluating short- and long-term approaches to meet the workforce and health care needs of our communities.

Linda S. Weglicki, Ph.D., R.N., is the dean and a professor at the MUSC College of Nursing.