By Martha Underwood

Killeen Daily Herald

Texas faces a nursing shortage, said a local educator.

Catching up will not be easy, said Dr. Linda Pehl, president of Texas Nurses Association Region 7 and dean of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor school of nursing.

A recent government report shows that Texas needs 33,690 registered nurses just to equal the national average of nurses per 100,000 population.

That finding was contained in the Texas Department of State Health Services report, Nursing Workforce in Texas 2003: Demographics and Trends.

With an aging corps of nursing professionals and with colleges unable to hire qualified faculty to keep up with the demand, Texas and the nursing profession are looking at creative solutions, Pehl said.

Perks, flex-hours and legislation

Agency recruiters attract candidates through things like perks, better salary, more safety or day-care provided on campus, Pehl said. Young grads like to work three 12-hour shifts a week, leaving four days to play, she said, and employers using this shift plan do not need as many people to staff their hospitals.

However, older nurses can not handle 12-hour shifts on consecutive days. Besides energy considerations, many have young children, Pehl said. Hospitals are finding they can be hired for four-hour shifts at peak need times.

Not all recruitment techniques to attract nurses are good business, Pehl said. Paying a signing bonus brought a high turnover, because the people came without commitment, she said.

The Olin E. Teague Veterans Affairs Hospital in Temple is at safe staffing levels, said spokeswoman Liz Crossan, but the federal government pays a little less than the private sector.

The VA offers more in benefits, she said. These include tuition payback, many choices in health insurance plans, vacation and sick leave and more flexible work schedules. Both Killeen-area hospitals seek nursing staff.

We are always looking for qualified nurses, said Brenda Coley, executive director of human resources at Metroplex Hospital. She seeks professional staffers with the right credentials and a caring heart, who reflect the values of the hospital.

Fort Hoods Darnall Army Community Hospital faces similar challenges. Darnall is a microcosm of the surrounding community, said Col. MaryAnn Monteith, deputy commander for Nursing Services. Our challenges in hiring nurses are similar to other facilities in the area.

Government help is coming. VA spokeswoman Crossan said three pieces of legislation recently passed Congress that authorize recruiting incentives, more flexible work schedules and pay increases competitive with the private enterprise market.

Shortage of nurse educators

The number of registered nurses has steadily increased over the last 13 years, to 136,660 in 2003, according to the DSHS study.

But there is still a significant nursing shortage. Texas has 626.1 RNs per 100,000 population, compared to the U.S. average of 780.7 RNs per 100,000 in 2000, the most recent data year, the study showed.

The average age of nursing faculty is the late 40s, Pehl said, and it takes a long time to earn a doctorate to qualify to teach in bachelors degree nursing programs.

Young nurses are not coming into the profession quickly enough to replace those retiring, she said. There were 5,303 new RN graduates in 2003, compared to 5,207 in 1997.

The study showed there are many more qualified applicants than spaces to train them. In 2003, there were 9,209 qualified applicants to associate degree nursing programs and 6,454 to bachelors degree schools, but only 4,944 enrollees.

The picture was the same for bachelors degree nursing students. There were 6,454 qualified applicants but only room to educate 3,346 of them, due to the shortage of faculty or limited classroom and clinical space.

To view the report in detail, visit

Contact Martha Underwood at

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