What’s behind New Jersey’s growing nursing shortage?

When your dad, your mom and two of your sisters are all nurses, odds are you’re also going to join the field.

Anna Onday enrolled in the nursing school at William Paterson University.

“I volunteered at my parents’ work where I got to interact with the patients a lot and I realized I really loved helping people,” Onday said.

Her family all share her passion for nursing so they worry about more and more people retiring.

“They’re all around the same age and they need like new nurses to come in to take their place,” she added.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, New Jersey will have the third largest nurse shortage in the country by 2030 — a shortage of more than 11,000 people.

“With the past recession, nurses were putting off retiring so they stayed in the workforce a little longer. Now with an uptick in the economy, they’re beginning to retire and phase out of their career, so that’s what’s bringing us forward to an upcoming nursing shortage,” said Dr. Benjamin Evans, president of the New Jersey State Nurses Association.

The problem isn’t getting a new generation to want to fill the demand.

“These kids are coming in, we all have this passion to help people,” said nursing student Chiamaka Anyanwu.

The source of the crisis is the fact that schools of nursing are having their faculty age out as well, which means schools across the country are not able to take in as many students.

“We’re turning away qualified applicants in droves because we don’t have enough faculty to educate them,” said William Paterson nursing department chair and professor Dr. Nadine Aktan.

Numbers from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing say in 2017 more than 56,000 qualified applications were turned away from undergraduate nursing programs across the country.

“Baby boomer nurses are retiring, faculty are aging out, many schools of nursing can’t take in large classes due to faculty restrictions,” Evans said.

Aktan says it’s a challenge to recruit new faculty.

“You would have to have a masters or a doctoral degree, so you’re recruiting from a smaller pool of nurses. And because of the disparities in salary between clinical work and academic work, unfortunately there’s not always as much incentive to move into academic positions,” she said. “It’s going to get worse and worse, absolutely. It’s a big problem. This is why we need to look into federal grants and other financial resources so that we can not only support students through scholarships and other incentives to encourage them to go to nursing school, but that we can encourage nurses to go back and obtain higher degrees in nursing so they can become nurse practitioners or nurse faculty.”

The crisis is something these nursing students say they think about and it motivates them to work even harder.

“We want to be hands-on. We want to help our patients. It’s not necessarily because of the shortage, but I guess in a way you do feel more of a responsibility to maybe even fill in the areas that are needed more than other areas,” said nursing student Devyn Del Blaso.

Evans says there are two branches that are highly impacted in terms of the shortage: labor and delivery and the operating room.

Anna Onday wants to make an impact on the delivery floor.