Combatting the nursing shortage: How online learning provides a unique solution

February 11, 2019 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
With nurses retiring from the workforce at an unprecedented rate and an aging population requiring increased care, it’s a critical time for the nursing industry. Online learning can provide a unique solution to this pressing problem. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.1 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2022. However, there are currently not enough new nurses entering the field to satisfy the growing demand and in some cases, schools are turning away qualified applicants.

In addition, the need for evidence-based care – which integrates research-based evidence, clinical expertise, and the patient’s preferences – is increasing. As demand grows, even established registered nurses may find themselves needing to further their education by earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing. In fact, the governor of New York recently passed a law that RNs in the state must earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing within 10 years of initial licensure.

The issues – and the solutions – around the nursing shortage are complex. However, according to Heidi Sanborn, clinical assistant professor and interim director at ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, “Online education is uniquely positioned to meet the growing demand.” We sat down with Heidi to discuss the nursing shortage and how online education can help combat the challenges facing the industry.

Many are saying that we’ll need to think outside the box to solve the nursing shortage. How does online learning fit in here?

Sanborn: In general, students who want to advance their nursing education are non-traditional and out-of-the-box students. They are usually juggling work – and possibly even family life – and need the option of having their education brought to them. With the growing shortage, we cannot afford to add any barriers to nursing education. Online education meets this need as it delivers the course content to the student when and where they are.

The RN to BSN program, offered through ASU Online, and the university’s Concurrent Enrollment Program (CEP) reduce the traditional obstacles to earning a degree, providing an innovative pathway for nurses looking to advance their education and careers.

How do online programs help prevent bottlenecks such as not having enough qualified professors or clinical space, or having fewer spots available in nursing programs?

Sanborn: Our online programs at ASU are not space limited. We have the faculty and technical capacity to meet the growing demand for BSN-prepared nurses. The “clinical” experiences we provide in this program teach the student how to apply knowledge from the classroom within their own communities, which means that every student can achieve their BSN without the typical limitations of clinical and classroom space.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommended that 80% of nurses hold a BSN by 2020 (4). Do you feel the nursing shortage is a solvable issue? What should nursing programs do to address the shortage?

Sanborn: This is a complex yet solvable issue if we embrace innovative thinking. It requires designing programs and courses that minimize the time needed to achieve a BSN. We need to become more creative about the ways in which we have our students apply knowledge from their nursing program, allowing them to practice those skills out in the community where nurses are needed the most. While students need nursing skills, it’s more important that they understand how to think critically about each person they encounter. Increasingly, this means focusing on primary care and population health where nurses are leading the way to build healthier communities and keep patients out of the hospital. We must educate our nurses for the jobs of the future that will focus on maintaining the quality of life and allowing patients to be healthy and independent.

How do you address questions about the quality of earning your BSN online?

Sanborn: All nursing programs answer to their accrediting bodies, national organizations, and state boards of nursing. Each program is measured using the same set of essential skills, standardized education hours, and quality measures. Online programs are no different! We follow the same guidelines as a face-to-face or hybrid program. The RN to BSN and CEP programs are designed using project-based learning to develop critical thinking skills which have students apply the major concepts to each individual patient to optimize the quality of care being delivered. The content is rigorous, but it’s designed to build on knowledge throughout the program, providing the essential skills needed to deliver evidence-based care to maximize population health.

Online RN to BSN programs can help close the nursing shortage gap by accommodating the thousands of nursing students who are interested in pursuing degrees but can’t go to school full time or commit to an on-campus experience.

Since 2012, ASU’s online RN to BSN program has experienced nearly 60% growth in academic year enrollment. Students can complete their degrees in as little as 14 to 24 months, and ASU offers start dates every 7.5 weeks. Graduates of the program may qualify for careers such as nurse practitioners, intensive care nurses, nursing professors, psychiatric nurses and more.



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