Nursing industry still short of workers even when economy is unstable

At a time when many industries are going through hiring freezes and layoffs, the nursing industry is in dire need of all the graduates the University of Houston-Victoria can produce.

Kathryn Tart

“We just can’t keep up with the demand for graduates with the Baby Boomers aging and more nurses retiring,” said Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the UHV School of Nursing. “In addition, there’s a shortage of qualified nursing faculty who can teach the next generation of nurses.”

Texas is short about 22,000 nurses right now, according to the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies. That number could grow to 70,000 by 2020 unless there are major increases in funding for nursing education.

UHV has done its part to help with the shortage. The university surveyed area healthcare agencies and nurses to determine the need for a nursing program and then started one in the fall of 2006. At that time, UHV only offered a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at both the Victoria campus and the University of Houston System at Sugar Land. Forty-eight students initially were accepted into the program, and that number has expanded to 75 students in the RN to BSN program this semester.

The program was so successful that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved a proposal in December 2007 to create a UHV School of Nursing, which allowed the university to begin offering other nursing programs.

The School of Nursing expanded to add a Master of Science in Nursing program a year ago, along with a RN to MSN Bridge program. Both programs allow students to select nurse education or nurse administration concentrations on the Victoria or Sugar Land campuses. The nurse education concentration specifically meets the state’s need of educating more people to train future nurses at community colleges and universities, and to teach hospital patients and staff, Tart said.

“There is such a need for this concentration,” she said. “Some Texas nursing schools have to turn away qualified applicants because of the shortage of nursing faculty willing to teach at today’s salaries. We are fortunate at UHV that we have dedicated faculty and competitive salaries.”

The MSN programs have proven popular, with 53 students currently in the MSN program and five in the RN to MSN Bridge.

The School of Nursing’s newest program is the Second Degree BSN, which started in the fall on the Sugar Land campus. It allows someone with a bachelor’s degree to earn a second degree in nursing in as little as a year. Eighteen students are registered for the program this spring. The next group of Second Degree BSN students, including those who have graduated from major universities such as the University of Houston, will be admitted in January.

Janet Leatherwood, vice president and chief nursing officer at the Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, said she is excited about the programs the School of Nursing is offering. Her hospital employs about 600 RNs, and her directors are constantly recruiting nurses to fill the newly opened patient care units in their expanded hospital.

“All of our hospitals are growing in this community, and there is such a need for additional nurses,” said Leatherwood, who also is a member of the UHV President’s Regional Advisory Board. “That’s why I’m very excited about the school’s continued expansion and addition of new programs.”

Lynne Voskamp, chief nursing officer at Citizens Medical Center, said she thinks it is wonderful that UHV now has a School of Nursing. Eighty-three students have graduated from the school so far and provided valuable care in the community.

“It’s so important to be able to educate nurses all the way through to the master’s level right here in Victoria,” she said.

Citizens Medical Center employs about 450 RNs and Licensed Vocational Nurses and is continuously assessing its nursing needs, said Voskamp, who also serves on the UHV School of Nursing Advisory Board.

Although she said the unstable economy has not hit South Texas as hard as it has other areas of the country, there have been a few nurses at Citzens who have had spouses laid off from jobs in the area. Some of those nurses have asked to work more hours or work full time so that they can obtain health benefits.

“We’re conscientious of the nursing shortage, and we also try to be better staffed than most hospitals,” Voskamp said.

With the School of Nursing receiving interest from nurses across South Texas, Tart wants to expand into the Katy area and begin offering allied health programs such as occupational therapy and kinesiology/exercise science with approval from the coordinating board.

“We have to do everything we can to help solve the nursing shortage,” Tart said. “The future of our health care depends on it.”

For more information about degrees offered by the School of Nursing, go to or contact student recruitment coordinator Tammy Neeley Whatley at 361-570-4297 or

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Paula Cobler