Skilled to Work: Thousands of registered nurses are needed in Alabama

One human resources manager said the nursing population is aging out faster than it is being replaced.

Posted: Jan 31, 2019 12:42 PM
Updated: Jan 31, 2019 9:41 PM

Nursing care has always been in high demand across the United States. However, since the early 80s, Andrea Rosler noted that “demand has quadrupled.”

As the vice president of human resources, Rosler is in charge of hiring and training at Huntsville Hospital. She said there aren't’ nearly enough nurses entering the workforce as they need.

Abby Malone (center) works alongside two of her nursing colleagues at Huntsville Hosptial's Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit. The hospital, like others across the state, face the challenge of a lack of new nurses coming into the workforce. Abby Malone (center) works alongside two of her nursing colleagues at Huntsville Hosptial's Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit. The hospital, like others across the state, face the challenge of a lack of new nurses coming into the workforce.

“As the population has aged and the demand has increased, the supply of nursing has not kept up with that,” said Rosler.

“So as you probably have heard over the years, we at any given time, have well over 200 RN positions, not to mention the other types of paraprofessionals, openings at any given time.”

And that's just one hospital.

According to the Alabama Department of Labor, across the state, there are projected to be 3,275 openings each year on average between 2016 and 2026.

A driver of the nursing shortage, Rosler said, is due to the strength of the economy in the United States in recent years.

“What we have found is that when the economy is not doing well, then people who are in nursing come back to nursing,” said Rosler.

One of the younger nurses at Huntsville Hospital is Abby Malone. She graduated from Auburn University’s School of Nursing and joined the hospital staff two years ago.

“I knew I wanted to be in a career that was challenging, that was engaging and allowed me to kind of pursue my passion of helping others and nursing checked all those boxes,” said Malone.

Malone believes another barrier to the workforce for some is that they don’t really understand what nursing really entails.

“I think when most people think of nursing, the immediately jump to bedside. But it’s not always just bedside nursing. There are so many different ways you can go with one degree. So it’s a very versatile degree,” said Malone.

Historically, the field has been primarily female. Right now, Rosler said the ratio is about 80-20 female.

Troy Biggs works in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Huntsville Hospital and said he didn’t give much thought about being a male nurse when he made that career choice.

His grandfather on his dad’s side of the family was a small-town physician and inspired him to go into medicine.

He said he found the challenge of the work exciting and added that his schedule allows him plenty of time to see his family.

“The full-time schedule is three, 12-hour shifts a week. They're very long days, but you’ve got four other days that you can work over-time shifts, get a second job, make more money or I tend to try and spend more time with my family on my off days,” said Biggs.

And while there are plenty of nursing programs that are offered at four-year colleges like Auburn, the University of Alabama in Huntsville or the University of South Alabama, anyone can become a registered nurse with a two-year associates degree.

Some employers, like Huntsville Hospital, even have programs to reimburse tuition.

“You start at $40,000, $45,000 a year and then there are many opportunities after that to get specialization to get advanced degrees and I think it’s something that’s a good starting point for anybody,” said Rosler.

According to the Alabama Department of Labor, registered nurses across the State of Alabama made $57,887 per year on average in 2017. 

But for nurses like Malone, the job is far more than a paycheck.

“It’s not just that we’re just here passing meds and following through with orders, we’re here and we’re the last line of defense for this patient and make sure that they get the care they need,” said Malone.

To learn more about registered nurses, click here.

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