New program addresses ongoing nursing shortage

New program addresses ongoing nursing shortage

By Caitlyn Meisner |

Alexandria senior care facilities – including Goodwin Living and Woodbine Rehabilitation – are funding a new nursing program at Northern Virginia Community College, which will train students to become licensed practical nurses in a 13-month program. In total, $420,000 will be contributed over the two year duration of the program. 

The new program – approved by the Virginia Board of Nursing – will be hosted at the college’s Reston campus and work to address the nursing shortage at the local, state and federal level. Funds for the program will be utilized to pay experienced faculty, get the program off the ground and fund student scholarships, according to NOVA staff. 

There are many factors contributing to the shortage, but according to several studies and surveys completed in the industry, an aging workforce, insufficient working conditions and larger numbers of older adults are the primary reasons. 

The pandemic also exacerbated this issue: A survey completed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found about one-fifth of registered nurses are projected to leave the workforce by 2027. Many nurses said they were emotionally drained and burned out, which was especially apparent in early career nurses. Tens of thousands of LPNs have left since the beginning of the pandemic with an insufficient number of replacements being trained during the two-to-three-year period. 

An inadequate supply of nurses has negative impacts on patient health-related outcomes, namely decreasing the quality of care, threatening patient safety and increasing patient mortality rates, according to a study in the Nursing Open journal from October 2022. 

Donna Shaw, an administrator at Woodbine, said the shortage has been a long time coming, but was enhanced by the pandemic and an aging population. 

“The oldest baby boomer turns 80 in 2025, so just [two] short years from now is going to be the start of the wave,” Shaw said. 

Baby boomers were born loosely between 1946 and 1964. Between this period, more than 78 million people were born according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census Bureau also said by 2034, there will be 77 million people aged 65 or older, while there will only be 76.5 million people under the age of 18. 

The demand of care must be met by the supply of nurses, but the future is grim; it is projected there will be a 10% to 20% shortage of manpower in providing patient care in 2030, as per a 2023 survey. 

Jennifer Bristow, development manager at NOVA, said this new program will create an important pathway for nurses at the community college level. 

“This is a family sustaining wage program,” Bristow said. “[Students] are able to complete this program and get hired right away. This isn’t where they’re spending two to four years – or possibly longer – to get these credentials. This is a quick entry into the healthcare profession.” 

Bristow said this program is stackable, meaning that students can then go on to receive higher levels of education in the nursing field if they chose to do so. With successful completion of an LPN program, students can then obtain a registered nurse degree in two years, then a bachelor’s of science in nursing, which are all then used to become a nurse practitioner. 

“The LPN is the first to really enter the nursing field officially,” Hoang Nguyen, an associate director of external communications at NOVA, said. “It’s a lot when you want to get into nursing and you may think that the four-year university route is your only option. We want to really emphasize that you [can] break it up and get paid the median wage, [which] only goes up once you get an RN and BSN.” 

Nguyen and Bristow said the program was created by a team of experts brought together by NOVA to craft the program from scratch. This way, the program was customized to the region and maximize the skills obtained by students. 

“When an LPN graduates and passes their credentialing, they will be able to walk straight in and know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing and apply those skills they learned because they’re going to get all [those] clinical rotation hours coupled in [with] their in academics,” Bristow said. 

Shaw said this program will be beneficial to the working student. Students of the program will be able to use classrooms and clinical spaces in an open forum with flexible hours. 

“It offers amazing flexibility for people that are already working that can’t just drop everything and go to school,” Shaw said. “It’s really going to teach future nurses what they need to know to take care of people. It’s a win-win for the students, the school and our community in the future.” 

Shaw also said, as a nurse and resident of Alexandria for over 25 years, the city is a quintessential city for nurses to work within. 

“There are a lot of people that live in the city that have been here for generations, and this is their town,” Shaw said. “There’s not too many pockets that really feel like a small town like Alexandria does [in the Washington, D.C. area]. People want to continue to live in the city as they age. It’s so important to invest right back in [to the community] so we can keep people living here for years to come.”