Nursing schools, hospitals don’t agree on how to solve nurse shortages.

Erica Carbajal

The nursing shortage is like an endless domino effect of the worst kind, with existing staffing issues and burnout driving more and more nurses to cut their hours or leave the industry entirely. All stakeholders want to solve the problem, but hospitals and nursing schools have different ideas about what is needed most to do so.

In a July 31 report, Cal Matters laid out how this is playing out in California. Hospitals and unions want nursing schools to prioritize applicants that already have experience in healthcare for admission. Nursing schools say doing so won’t enable them to graduate more nurses, pointing to the need for more faculty and training opportunities to expand class sizes.

The California Hospital Association and SEIU are co-sponsoring a bill that would require community colleges to reserve 15 percent of their enrollment slots for healthcare workers looking to advance their education and move into a higher-paying position, such as nursing. 

“When we talk to our hospital members, workforce issues are the number one thing that keep them up at night,” Jan Emerson-Shea, spokesperson for the CHA, told the news outlet. “We also hear from employees that they’ve tried getting into community college programs, but because they’re so impacted, it can take them three, four or five years to get into the program.”

The community college and university nursing schools’ take is that these types of bills don’t allow them to increase the number of graduates. Officials told the news outlet that programs are full and that existing healthcare workers already get extra points during the admissions process. Thus, from their lens, the key challenge is creating more spots.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation earlier this summer that included a $300 million five-year investment to double the state’s nursing school capacity, which unions lobbied for, and say it could be used to boost faculty salaries. Nursing school officials welcome the funds but still worry about limited class sizes and clinical placement slots.

“As we move forward with the nursing shortage, clinical placements are an issue. So many hospitals kind of downsized their willingness to bring on students during the pandemic, and those spots never came back,” Linda Zorn, legislative chair for the California Organization of Associate Degree Nursing and executive director of economic and workforce development for Butte-Glenn Community College District, told Cal Matters.