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University of Alaska works to address statewide nursing shortage

(KTUU)
(KTUU)(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 9:21 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The demand for nurses across the country continues to grow amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The same is true here in Alaska.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, up to half a million registered nurses could retire in the U.S. by next year. Carla Hagen, director of University of Alaska Anchorage’s school of nursing says here in Alaska, the state is at the top of the list when it comes to the nationwide shortage of registered nurses.

“What I have learned is hospitals are having to seek travelers, meaning they’re locums from other states and so forth on short term contracts — and the fact (is) that there just hasn’t been enough nurses to recruit,” she said.

Hagen said there’s not only a shortage of registered nurses, but also advanced practice nurses, which is part of why the university is working to expand its reach to get more nursing students into the workforce upon graduation.

“We’re trying to really open the different avenues for people to move into the nursing profession both at the undergraduate level as well as at the graduate level,” Hagen said.

She also mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult on nurses, and said increasing the nursing workforce is essential to combat burnout.

“I think that the pandemic has shown us that we really need to be supportive across the community for our nurses,” Hagen said.

Kristen Brown and Alice Amaktoolik are both nursing students currently enrolled in the program. They say they’re eager to get their careers started.

“I feel like I’m ready for it,” Amaktoolik said. “I’ve always loved helping people, and I see how hard the nurses work here all the time.”

“Nursing has always been in my heart — I always felt like I was called to be a nurse,” Brown said.

Brown said during a clinical shift, she saw first-hand how the nursing shortage is impacting hospitals and putting a strain on staff.

“A nurse I was working with on a particular day went from three patients to six patients by the end of the shift, so I saw a significant change on how much time the nurse could spend with a patient,” she said.

While Brown and Amaktoolik both have many hours of classes and clinicals to get through before graduating, both hope to soon be part of the solution to the nursing shortage in Alaska.

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