What Does the Future Hold?

It all starts in the classroom if you want to be a nurse. But when the future of nursing depends on filling the classroom seats, the lack of enrollment in the nursing program at Southeast Missouri University isn't reassuring. "Last year I couldn't fill the seats. We had enough room for 30 students twice a year and we only had 21 students for those 30 spots," says A. Louise Hart, the chair of SEMO's nursing department.  The word about the need for nurses must be getting out though ,because next year's enrollment is a different story. "I already have a waiting list. For 30 spots we have 45 wanting to get in," says Hart.

But are future nurses willing to go where they're most desperately needed? By a show of hands, two-thirds of a class of sophomore nursing students all want to work in a hospital. But health workers fear there's too big of a gap between the number of nurses to be and the ones set to retire. "The average age of the practicing nurse is 44," says Hart. And most hospital nurses retire in their early fifties.

"There's a gap and people who aren't addressing it will feel a crunch," says Karen Hendrickson, chief nursing officer at Southeast Missouri Hospital. "Experts predict the nursing shortage won't be getting better anytime soon. In fact they say in 20 years they'll have 20 percent fewer nurses than we need to fill our basic needs. But perhaps the bottom line when it comes to this nursing shortage is simple, "It's a wake-up call for all of us.. to recruit," says Jeannie Fadler, vice-president of patient services at St Francis Medical Center.