RNs Needed in the Heartland

July 16th, 2012

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By , BSN, RN

Some days I'm not sure if we currently have a nursing shortage or an overabundance. To hear some new grads tell it they can’t find work anywhere. If you listen to some of the experts the whole national healthcare system is going to shortly fall apart because we are thousands of nurses in the hole. The truth, I think we all know, is somewhere in between.

The economy is getting better and will continue to recover, nurses who should have retired will, nurses who need jobs will get them, and we will move on. However, for many years now there has been an area of nursing that has suffered hiring and retention problems: rural nursing.

I guess the first reason is obvious, there are more people in the cities than there are in rural America. The second reason is that big hiring centers, most big medical centers, are in or near urban populations. And a third reason may be that so many new nurses, in particular, want the excitement of intensive care or emergency/trauma nursing and that is generally found in urban areas. If we are currently in a position of overabundance, according to one resource, now is the time for rural care facilities to recruit like crazy.

In a recent editorial in the Online Journal of Rural Nursing and Health Care, editor Pamela Stewart Fahs, DSN, RN, writes, “This time of a more abundant supply of RNs is a time for rural areas to strengthen the ranks of rural nurses." When new nurses are looking for work, now is the time to shore up the ranks in the rural US, according to Fahs, by using residency programs to transition nurses into a new environment.

In fact, another study in the same Journal issue shows that rural rotations increase nursing student interest in practicing in rural areas.

VA Focuses on Rural Veterans Healthcare Needs

This increased awareness of rural healthcare needs comes just as the national Veterans Affairs Department has announced its need to expand veteran’s healthcare options in the rural U.S.

“It is difficult to bring specialty care, and best practices in specialty care, into these rural areas,” said Robert Petzel, VA’s undersecretary for health. “Studies show that compared to urban veterans, rural and highly rural veterans have lower health-related quality of life scores and a higher prevalence of physical illness.”

However, the VA hopes to change that with a system-wide adoption of a program called Specialty Care Access Network-Extension for Community Health Care Outcomes (SCAN-ECHO) through which specialty healthcare providers educate primary care doctors and nurses so they can deliver high quality care in their communities. The training will be delivered remotely, through weekly video teleconferencing clinics.

The program aims to improve veterans’ care in four areas: hepatitis C, congestive heart failure, diabetes mellitus, and chronic pain management.

With millions of veterans living in rural communities, there is a strong need for this program in the VA health care system, Petzel said. As more active-duty service members return from Afghanistan, the number of veterans in need will continue to grow.

Nursing is one of the most comprehensive careers a person can pursue. There are opportunities in every other profession for nurses to fit in, and geographically there really is nowhere that doesn’t need a nurse. So consider a farm life, and a rural career—or to quote a jingle from one of my favorite 60’s sitcoms, “Green acres is the place to be…”

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