Medical facilities, such as those operated by Forrest Health, are advertising to draw in more professionals due to a current shortage. (Photo by Jeremy Pittari)
In Mississippi, five public universities have a school of nursing, along with four private universities and all 15 community colleges.
A nursing shortage is affecting the nation, and the state of Mississippi is among the states exploring ways to encourage students to enter and remain in the field.
Universities and colleges across the Magnolia State are working to not only graduate more trained healthcare staff, but also expand programs to accept more students. That was the message shared at this month’s Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board of Trustees meeting.
To begin the presentation, Director of Nursing Education for Mississippi’s IHL, Melissa Temple gave a brief history of the state’s nursing program. She said the nursing program in Mississippi began in 1914 with the establishment of the Board of Nursing. By 1929, 46 schools of nursing were operating in the state, most of which were diploma programs implemented in hospital settings. In 1954, the Legislature placed nursing education under the guidance of the IHL, and the Board of Nursing retained the responsibility of licensure and practice.
Currently, there are five public universities in Mississippi that have a school of nursing, along with four private universities and all 15 community colleges.
Within those campuses, there are 40 degree programs, of which 17 are for associate degrees, nine provide baccalaureate degrees, six are for master’s degrees, three focus on doctorate degrees, and five provide a Doctor of Medical Physics degree.
Temple said schools of nursing are the critical component that produce the nursing workforce in Mississippi, accounting for roughly 52,000 licensed and registered nurses in the state. Over the past five years the schools of nursing admitted an average of 4,000 students annually and graduate more than 2,700 per year.
In addition, her report noted that the number of nurse practitioners has increased, from near 6,500 in 2022 to more than 7,000 this year.
But those numbers are not keeping up with the need. Temple said there is a shortage of nurses and nursing faculty, with about 3,000 vacant nursing positions in the state’s hospitals. She said this is not due to a lack of students, but rather a lack of training resources.
“In Mississippi, program directors report that the number one reason for not accepting all applicants is because they don’t have enough faculty, and secondly don’t have enough clinical space,” Temple said. “Nationally, nursing schools turned away almost 92,000 qualified applicants from BSN and higher programs in 2021.”
In response, East Mississippi Community College increased enrollment from 45 to 90 this past spring while East Central Community College plans to offer the LPN and ADN programs virtually and Hinds County Community College modified its transition to RN program to allow LPNs, paramedics and respiratory therapists to enroll. Hinds Community College also shortened the length of the RN transition program to three semesters. Itawamba Community College did something similar, Temple said.
There is also concern about the limited amount of clinical space. Temple said deans of colleges say out-of-state programs have been sending their students to Mississippi clinical sites. Additionally, there has been a shortage of preceptors, who are registered nurses with at least one year of experience that help train nursing students for a set number of hours.
Mississippi is one of the few states that does not have a regulatory approval process for monitoring out-of-state programs and their clinical placement of students. Temple said efforts are now underway to establish that program.
“So, we want to ensure those institutions with those schools are regionally accredited and want to make sure that the schools of nursing are accredited by their state board of nursing,” Temple said.
The process will also ensure the out-of-state program is nationally accredited, just like the ones in Mississippi.
Part of the problem is the restrictive nature of Tennessee’s program, which affects programs in the north end of the Magnolia State. Temple said Mississippi’s open-door policy allows Tennessee’s nursing students to complete their clinical requirements here but does not allow Mississippi students to complete their clinicals in the Volunteer State. The restriction is due to Tennessee’s requirement that out-of-state programs receive accreditation by Tennessee’s standards. Currently, there are 1,214 out-of-state nursing students in clinical placements within Mississippi. About four weeks ago, programs began to have out-of-state schools apply for approval to send students to Mississippi to complete their clinicals. The cost associated with the application process is based on student enrollment numbers, Temple said.
There is also the issue of nurses becoming overwhelmed and leaving the career path in less than a year. Temple said a new nurse residency program will allow second-year nursing students to work in a clinical facility with a preceptor to earn their clinical credit, allowing the new nurse more opportunities to receive hands-on experience. The idea is that additional experience will better prepare the new nurses for unexpected issues that come up while treating patients. Temple said it is the only program in the nation that will follow a student from pre-licensure to post licensure. After graduation that nurse will participate in a 6-month residency program.
“Because one thing we know, too, is that a lot of people are leaving the profession and are leaving in that first year, the young nurses, because they are so overwhelmed in that first year. So, hopefully this will help give them the support and guidance they need,” Temple said.