[ OUR OPINION ]
Nursing faculty shortage
amounts to medical
MANY aspiring nurses will have to look elsewhere because of the full load of students at the University of Hawaii nursing programs. The problem should be regarded as a medical emergency, because the present nursing shortage threatens to become much more severe in the years ahead. Funds must be allocated to meet the needs of the UH nursing school and thus the needs of tomorrow's retiring baby boomers.
The University of Hawaii has turned away most qualified candidates for nursing school because it lacks enough faculty to accommodate them.
In recent years, Hawaii has lost about 400 nurses a year through retirement, but only 280 graduate from nursing schools in the state to fill those positions. Hawaii is among the 10 lowest states in the number of registered nurses per capita. Julie Johnson, dean of the UH School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene, says the shortfall is expected to reach 2,267 registered nurses in six years.
Johnson says the UH-Manoa program could accept only 50 of the 150 eligible candidates last fall because it had no money for additional faculty. System-wide, UH rejected 273 qualified candidates for undergraduate nursing studies. She says an additional 10 faculty positions would be needed to accept all eligible candidates.
The negative consequences are likely to be even greater than those numbers indicate. The issues precipitating last year's nursing strikes at three hospitals on Oahu had more to do with workplace conditions and forced overtime than wages, which are among the best in the country.
A national nursing shortage estimated at 126,000 is projected to exceed 800,000 by 2020. A national survey showed that half of the RNs considering leaving the profession cited inadequate staffing, heavy workloads and mandatory overtime. Those conditions are bound to worsen.
The reduced enrollment at nursing schools generally has been attributed to a decrease in qualified instructors, not a shortage of funds to pay for them. "The pool of experienced faculty is diminishing rapidly because of retirement," Carol Winters-Moorehead, dean of nursing at Hawaii Pacific University, told the Star-Bulletin last year. "The number of nurses who are preparing for the faculty has diminished at an alarming rate."
Last year's Legislature created a State Center for Nursing to address the problem. Joan White, its chairperson, says the center is working to improve nurse recruitment and retention. The new center has the daunting task of helping nursing schools find qualified instructors and then find the money to pay for them.
BACK TO TOP
Politics trumps science in
IT IS not surprising that the Food and Drug Administration has rejected over-the-counter sale of a contraceptive pills that two of its advisory panels overwhelming recommended for approval.
The agency rules that the contraceptive pill cannot be sold over the counter.
The Bush administration has a consistent record of disregard for science and rational evidence when they butt up against its political agenda. The FDA's dismissal surrenders the health of women and a safe method of avoiding pregnancy to the administration's lust for retaining the White House. In submitting to the pressure of his social conservative base, the president shuts off another alternative to legal abortion it so opposes.
The agency rejected approval in a rare negation of its panels of medical experts and its staff who had overwhelming recommended that so-called morning-after pills be cleared for non-prescription sale. The ostensible reason was that it had not been proven that teenage girls would be able to understand the drug's label. Use is relatively simple. The two high-dose birth control pills are to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse.
Five states, including Hawaii, already allow the pill's sale from certain pharmacists without a prescription. The pills' content are drugs long used for contraception and may prevent up to 89 percent of pregnancies.
Some opponents say the pills will encourage promiscuity, a ludicrous unsupported claim. Extensive research has shown that access to the drug is a neutral factor, neither fostering more sexual activity nor encouraging its use in place of other birth-control methods.
Others contend that the drug would be used for abuse. Wendy Wright of the conservative Concerned Women for America wildly envisions that non-prescription status "would allow people to slip the medicine to women without their knowledge."
FDA officials denied that the administration had any influence on their decision, refusing to discuss charges that they had been summoned to the White House on the matter and an internal memo that showed they overruled medical reviewers. But they are at a loss to explain why they ignored their own experts and research by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Princeton University and Vanderbilt University, among others.