Nursing shortage creates challenges for UT nursing school, motivates student nurses

Isabella Zeff, General News Reporter

Christian Santos always had a passion for both helping others and health sciences, creating a love that inspired him to major in nursing when he came to UT.

“You’re taking care of (patients’) health and making sure they’re stable but also making sure they’re okay emotionally,” sophomore Santos said. “I really liked that one-on-one connection that you have constantly with a patient.”

However, having the resources to facilitate that one-on-one connection is not always possible in the face of a nationwide nursing shortage. According to the Texas Hospital Association, there is a shortage of over 1 million nurses in the U.S., with Texas lacking 30,000 nurses. The critical shortage, driven by long hours and demanding working conditions that cause people to leave the field, was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of people now don’t want to join the medical field,” nursing sophomore Sarah Provost said. “The people that are in it definitely have a higher amount of pressure on them.”

The shortage has not only impacted hospitals and clinics, but created challenges for people at UT’s School of Nursing. Dean of Nursing Alexa Stuifbergen said the conditions make it difficult to fill faculty positions and find clinical placements for students to gain real-world experience.

Santos has been working as a medical assistant at a family clinic for a year, which he said has made him more confident to eventually move into the fast-paced hospital environment.

Experiential learning opportunities like Santos’ are a large part of a nursing degree, Stuifbergen said, but the shortage makes it harder to find clinical placements for every student.

“When there’s a shortage in practice and those nurses are stressed and extremely busy, it makes it harder for them to work and help with our students,” Stuifbergen said. “The shortage has been difficult for everyone and it’s probably going to get worse.”

Stuifbergen said the School of Nursing received a grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in January to create a clinical teaching toolkit and bootcamp for nurse preceptors, practicing nurses who supervise students working in clinical settings.

The program will give practicing nurses the training to move into education, which could help fill faculty positions in the future and give students experiential learning opportunities, Stuifbergen said.

“It’s not a career for the faint-hearted,” Provost said. “(The challenges) make me want to be a nurse more, just so that way I can be there to help when there are so little who can right now.”