Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


It’s time to confront the nursing shortage

A plea for more students to enter this vital, fulfilling profession.

A nurse listening to a patient’s chest
Minnesota needs to be teaching the next generation of nurses now so that we can all experience compassionate, quality healthcare in the future.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Births. Deaths. Life-altering diagnoses. Clear scans or test results. Nurses are present in the lives of people’s most important and vulnerable moments, providing invaluable care and compassion.

Right now Minnesota and the nation are experiencing an urgent nursing shortage. At the height of the pandemic, we saw the immense stress that COVID-19 put on our healthcare systems – underlining our place in the healthcare field: nurses provide a vital function and keep care moving efficiently for patients.

A recent survey published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found that about 100,000 registered nurses in the U.S. left the workplace due to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is cause for alarm, especially as Baby Boomers enter or near retirement age and will require more care. Student enrollment in nursing programs is also declining.

As someone who has dedicated my career to nursing, I want young people to know that there are incredible opportunities in the nursing field. A nurse’s first job out of college could be working in a hospital setting. They could then go into home care, or if they are interested in technology, pursue a career in informatics. Or they could consider graduate school programs to pursue an advanced practice nursing degree such as a nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist. With so many opportunities and areas of practice, a career in nursing is fulfilling and never boring. It’s also an incredibly versatile profession – if you move to a different state or even country, your skills will translate, and you would have job security.

Article continues after advertisement

The nursing department where I work at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University places a special focus on creating meaningful connections in the community and getting to know each student and helping them achieve their individual goals. We even offer guaranteed clinical placement for students in our family nurse practitioner program, which we can do because of our strong ties in the community and longstanding partnerships. Finding these placements for students takes one big piece of stress off their plate, and I would encourage other programs and practices to do the same.

When my daughter graduated from high school last spring and was looking for advice on what it would be like to pursue a career in nursing, I told her what I would tell anyone: if you want to make a difference each day at work in the lives of others and be present in their most important moments, be a nurse. If you know a young person who loves working with people and is caring, compassionate, empathetic, smart and determined – encourage them to consider a career in nursing.

If you know a nurse personally, please take a moment to express your gratitude and acknowledge the importance of their career. We expect a lot from our nursing students, and they work hard. Minnesota needs to be teaching the next generation of nurses now so that we can all experience compassionate, quality healthcare in the future.

Dr. Jennifer Peterson is an assistant professor and chair of the nursing department graduate program at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.