SPOKANE and YAKIMA, Wash. — In an effort to find new ways to place more professional nurses in open positions, the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/Washington State University College of Nursing has received funding from a regional health care consortium in Spokane and two Yakima hospitals to fund extra sections of upper division basic students in both cities.

That effort is in response to a critical shortage of nurses. Like the rest of the nation, Washington state is feeling the crunch. More than 2,200 nursing staff positions are open throughout the state, according to the Washington State Nurses Association.

The innovative plan offered by Inland Northwest Health Services of Spokane, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital and Providence Yakima Medical Center is funding an additional section of upper division basic nursing at each campus.

The INHS grant provides $240,000 over a two-year period to fund additional nursing faculty, staff, materials and services for students attending the Spokane campus this spring semester.

“When new semester classes begin today, we will have 82 basic baccalaureate students, which is 10 more students than we could generally admit,” said Dr. Dorothy Detlor, dean of the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing. “The INHS funding will allow us to admit one extra section of students per semester for the next two semesters. That means, by the year 2004, we could expect up to 20 additional BSN-prepared nurses to fill vacant nursing positions. The percentage of nursing vacancies will only rise over the next 15 years when up to half of the current nursing workforce is expected to retire.”

The Yakima funding is well underway. The two hospitals began the funding there last summer with a two-year $120,000 commitment to fund an extra section of up to 12 students for the Fall 2001 class. “We’ve been limited to admitting only 12 students per year for our basic BSN program in Yakima,” said Detlor. “The additional funding from the community hospitals significantly increases our basic program in Yakima where the nursing shortage is particularly severe.”

The WSU College of Nursing, which prepares more entry-level nurses than any other educational institution in the state, has been working closely to identify strategies, work within the legislative process and form collaborations to address the nursing shortage locally and statewide.

“The current nursing shortage puts skilled nurses in high demand,” said Detlor. “Unlike past nursing shortages, this one is not going away in the foreseeable future.”

According to the American Hospital Association, 75 percent of all hospital personnel vacancies are for nurses. There are about 60,000 licensed RNs in Washington state. The average age of practicing nurses is between 44 and 45 years of age. The demand for nursing professionals at all levels will outstrip the supply by the year 2010, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The nation will need about 1.8 million RNs. Only about 600,000 will be practicing, which means that in 2010, two of three nursing positions will be vacant.

Nursing is the largest health care profession, nationally, regionally and locally. Rising demand, opportunities to practice in varied settings, and an aging population has given rise to nursing opportunities inside and beyond the hospital setting. The shortage has definitely increased professional opportunities for nurses.

Established in 1968, the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing is the nation’s first, oldest and most comprehensive nursing education consortium. The College of Nursing offers baccalaureate, graduate and professional development course work to nursing students enrolled through its four consortium partners, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Washington State University and Whitworth College. The College educates more than 550 graduate and undergraduate students each year and is the largest undergraduate nursing college in the state. For more information about the College of Nursing visit the Web site at nursing.wsu.edu.