Assemblymember Pedro Nava received approval last week from the Senate Education Committee for his nursing shortage solution, Assembly Bill 867, which is aimed at helping to fix the dire situation facing California. Not only are hospitals already short staffed, the heath care system in general is about to lose a large group of nurses that are going to be retiring. This means safe care could become endangered, and hospitals and other healthcare facilities may have to start relying on nursing assistants with minimal training, rather than on registered nurses.

The bill would change the current law to allow California State Universities to train both its own nursing faculties and faculties for California Community Colleges by offering doctorate of nursing programs (DNP), which in turn, it is hoped, will produce more teachers for nursing programs. Without AB 867, CSU can train nurses but not teachers of nurses, who must first earn their DNP to be qualified.

While this bill might make a small dent in efforts to get more nurses into the workforce by training more nurses to become teachers by virtue of having their DNP, and therefore enabling the enrollment of more students at any given time, the statewide and local nursing shortage situation is more complicated that that. According to Joan Beem, director of the Ventura College nursing program, the first problem is that the financial incentive for the highly educated nurses needed to teach is not there.

Although applications flood the administration office at Ventura College when almost any professor position opens, only a few qualified nurses who have the appropriate degree will apply to work in the nursing program. And it’s not because they don’t care, it is simply a matter of pay.

The nursing shortage statewide ranges between 11,000 and nearly 60,000 full-time positions; it is no wonder nurses will seek higher paying gigs — the market is inundated with empty positions and publicly-funded higher education schools can only offer so much.

But the crisis is still very real. In Ventura County, the nursing shortage is less than two thirds of the state average, at 372 nurses for every 100,000 citizens, according to a recent study from the Ventura Nursing Legacy Project.

And the state ratio of nurses to residents ranks among the lowest in the nation. There is a big market for nurses, but colleges and universities simply can’t attract enough qualified professionals to work as teachers.

And even if they could, Beem said, at this time at Ventura College, there just isn’t enough room to accommodate the students looking to enroll — the college has a two-year waiting list, with hundreds of students just waiting their chance.

While federal and state grants have helped Ventura College expand its nursing program to build more facilities, the school just hasn’t been able to shorten that waiting list.

We think that any effort to help tackle this alarming nurse shortage should be well received, including Nava’s assembly bill. But the real issue goes beyond schools offering doctorate programs. The real issue is that a career in education just isn’t worth it to many nurses looking to work their way up in the health care system. We hope that legislators, schools, health care administrators and even taxpayers work together to come up with a comprehensive solution that will one day fill the need for qualified nurses in healthcare. Without a cooperative effort, the California nursing shortage is sure to only get worse.