USM trying new ideas to combat nursing shortage

The University of Southern Mississippi's College of Nursing and Health Professions is...
The University of Southern Mississippi's College of Nursing and Health Professions is implementing new ideas to help stem a shortage of nurses.(WRDW)
Published: Nov. 27, 2022 at 4:46 PM CST
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From University of Southern Mississippi Public Communications Department

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Stress, burnout, long hours, lagging salaries, working conditions, a global pandemic: You name a workplace malady, nurses have likely experienced it over the past several years.

Consequently, the United States finds itself staring squarely in the eyes of a nursing crisis.

Nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with nearly 4.5 million registered nurses with active licenses.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says of those, only 72 percent are employed as RNs, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country will need more than 203,000 new registered nurses every year through 2026 to fill the gap in care left by a retiring workforce.

The average age of a nurse right now is 51.

The University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Nursing and Health Professions is bringing new ideas to the table to stem the current trends

Long-known as a leader in nursing education, USM saw 148 undergraduate and 48 graduate students earn degrees last year.

Earlier this year, online resource guide, ranked USM as the best accredited nursing school in Mississippi.

Dr. Lachel Story, dean of USM’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, says the eye-opening numbers connected to the nursing dilemma are not necessarily surprising.

“No, the nursing shortage has been a building issue long before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Story said. ”However, the pandemic made this issue worse and shined a spotlight on it.

“Much like the pandemic, the nursing shortage will likely persist for some time without a comprehensive approach that incorporates innovative strategies. The shortage is at all levels, including registered nurses, advanced practice nurses and nursing faculty.”

A new survey by staffing firm Incredible Health found that more than one-third (34 percent) of nurses say it is very likely that they will leave the profession by the end of 2022 and 44 percent cited burnout and a high-stress environment as the reason for their desire to leave.

Nurses cited benefits and pay as the second-leading reason (27 percent) for quitting their jobs.

The company analyzed data from more than 400,000 Incredible Health nurse profiles and surveyed more than 2,500 registered nurses in the U.S. in February 2022.

One unique approach USM has taken to combat the shortage and meet demands is an accelerated pathway to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree that will be offered on the University’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach.

The pathway will help eligible students earn a BSN degree in a shorter time and decrease barriers to admission, while providing benefits to those who have already earned a higher-education degree.

The jumpoff for the new coursework is expected to start in January 2023. Plans call for two admission cycles per year.

Significant components of the accelerated plan include:

  • Can be finished in 12 months
  • Scholarships are available
  • Same degree as traditional BSN – has same clinical experiences
  • Able to bypass some typical requirements, having already earned a degree
  • CCNE accredited

“These students will be able to bypass certain requirements because they already have a bachelor’s degree, and they will be able to complete the nursing requirements in 12 months, as opposed to the traditional 24 months,” said Story. “This will get nurses out into the workforce in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, while still ensuring the same high-quality educational and clinical experiences that we are known for.”

Data compiled by the Mississippi Center for Quality and Workforce shows that Registered Nurse (RN) vacancy rates in hospitals statewide rose from 4.3 percent in 2011 to 15.9 percent in 2021.

Mississippi hospital vacancy rates for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) were 20.1 percent and 14 percent for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) in 2021.

The turnover rates last year for hospital nurses were even more alarming with RNs at 23.5 percent; LPNs at 28 percent and CNAs at 46.2 percent.

In 2017, hospitals statewide reported 473 RN vacancies. Last year, that number swelled to more than 2,800.

Nursing schools turned away more than 90,000 qualified applications last year — the highest number in decades – because there wasn’t enough capacity, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

USM currently has approximately 350 students enrolled in the BSN program. In recent years, the program has turned away as many as 150 qualified students. Initiatives like the accelerated BSN pathway create alternatives for students who might not otherwise gain admission.

LaNelle Weems, director of the Mississippi Center for Quality and Workforce, serves as an external advisory board member for USM’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.

She said that USM plays a vital role in helping the state replenish nurses.

“As an anchor university in southern Mississippi, it is imperative that the university work with the communities it serves to prepare a nursing/healthcare workforce to meet the needs of the healthcare facilities locally and across the state,” said Weems. “With the impact from the loss of healthcare workers over the last few years, we lost experience, leadership and skills of those who are not working in Mississippi’s healthcare arena.

“It sends a strong message that our state needs to prepare more nurses with skillsets across the nursing continuum to provide safe and quality care.”

To learn more about USM’s nursing program, call 601.266.5445 or visit:

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