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March 27, 2001

Answer to Nursing Shortage Lies in Cultivating Talents of Minorities and Men, Say UCSF Researchers

The nursing shortage is approaching crisis proportions in California and across
the nation. A large part of the problem is that the profession is not
attracting enough young minorities and men, according to a new study from the
UCSF Center for Health Professions.

In addition, nurse aides, emergency medical technicians and medical assistants,
who might choose a career in nursing, often experience too many barriers to
make it worth their while, according to the new report titled Diversifying the
Nursing Workforce: A California Imperative. The report is the second in a
series being released by the UCSF Center for Health Professions' California
Workforce Initiative.

"Rather than focusing solely on the lack of diversity and workforce shortages
as problems that need fixing, we should shift our perspective and look instead
to the potential pools of future workers. We need to learn more about their
values and goals, and structure education and employment systems to better meet
those needs," said Ed O'Neil, PhD, director the Center for Health Professions
and principal investigator on the report.

Latinos are notably underrepresented, making up over 30 percent of California's
population, but only four percent of the nurses in the state. African Americans
are underrepresented as well. They make up seven percent of California's
population and only four percent of California's nurses.

"It's important to recognize that the other significant pool of potential
nurses is made up of people already working in health care fields as nurse
aides, emergency medical technicians and medical assistants," said Catherine
Dower, JD, director of the California Workforce Initiative. "Some of these
allied health care fields are populated by the same racial and ethnic
minorities that are underrepresented in nursing. At least some of them are
interested in advancing their careers by moving into nursing. However, they
experience too many barriers to make this career change viable."

Barriers include poor high school career counseling and "tracking" by educators
of low socioeconomic status and non-white students, lack of financial resources
or financial incentive, culture gaps between familiar and professional worlds,
and lack of information about nursing and nursing education.

Some of the goals explored in the report are long-term in nature - affording
true systemic change. Others are more immediate steps that can be taken to
address short-term workforce needs. All of the goals focus on institutional
pivot points in nursing: its workforce, its education system, and its
professional structure.

Some recommendations made by the report's authors include:

* Updating our concept of the pools of future nurses to include allied and
auxiliary health care workers as well as young people not traditionally
recruited for nursing.

* Conducting additional research to understand better the values and goals of
these potential nurses.

* Committing to support current workers seeking to advance their careers within
the health care system. Hospitals, for example, could expand their volunteer
programs to expose people to options in the health professions. Volunteer work
should qualify for credit in nursing training programs.

* Make nursing more inclusive. There is confusion about the multiple entry
levels of nursing all leading to the designation of Registered Nurse (RN). A
career ladder that accommodates a broader set of practices and both leads to
and builds upon the RN designation is essential.

* Improve the professional education system. Training programs need improvement through better coordination of private college, community college and state university systems; better attention to challenges faced by many who want to enter nursing programs; and incorporation of learning models, like distance learning, that can be tailored to meet the needs of students of different ages, cultural backgrounds and learning styles.

* Facilitate life-long learning. This will necessitate workable partnerships
between employers and educators that focus on ensuring compatible schedules and facilitating financial arrangements.

Research for this report and its production were funded by The California
Endowment. The California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation, was
established to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved
individuals and communities. The Endowment provides grants to organizations and institutions that directly benefit the health and well being of Californians.

The UCSF Center for Health Professions' California Workforce Initiative (CWI)
is funded by The California Endowment and the California Health Care
Foundation. The California Health Care Foundation is an Oakland-based,
independent non-profit philanthropic organization whose mission is to expand
access for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental
improvements in the health status of Californians.

Nursing In California: A Workforce Crisis

UCSF News Release
Maureen McInaney (415) 476-2557

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