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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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In Our View: Pandemic underscores critical role of nurses

The Columbian

Today, appropriately, is National Nurses Day, which seems like it should be every day during these odd times.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, long-overdue appreciation has been afforded to nurses. Putting their health at risk to care for the afflicted, sometimes without adequate personal protection equipment, nurses have been thrust into the spotlight of the nation’s efforts to treat and mitigate the disease.

That also brings attention to the fact that Washington is projecting its shortage of registered nurses to reach 7,000 by 2025. There also is a projected shortage of 1,200 licensed practical nurses by five years from now. Oregon also is projecting a shortage of caregivers.

That is the bad news for health care systems and, more important, for patients. As the professionals who typically have the most contact with those receiving care, nurses play an essential role in a well-functioning system.

The good news, however, is that Washington is regarded as an excellent place for nurses to launch or continue a career. In a study released Monday by WalletHub, a personal finance website, Washington was deemed the second-best state for nurses — behind Oregon.

“WalletHub took stock of the nursing industry to help registered nurses, particularly new graduates, pick a place to live that will bring success,” the website reads. The ratings were formed by comparing each state in 22 metrics relating to nursing.

Good opportunities, however, will not alone fill the state’s shortage of nurses. There also is a need for graduates eager to take advantage of those opportunities. Projections suggest that nationally there will be a surplus of nurses in the coming years, indicating that a lack of educational opportunities is specific to this region.

As The (Everett) Herald points out editorially, Western Governors University Washington can help fill that void. The school, founded in 1997 by a coalition of governors, offers online education at an accredited university that allows students to advance at their own pace. Washington’s affiliate launched in 2011 and now has about 13,000 students enrolled in a wide swath of programs.

In the nursing field, WGU offers a bachelor of science in nursing for RNs seeking advanced education, along with degrees in health management. Clark College, meanwhile, offers an associate degree in nursing. Washington State University offers a bachelor’s program in nursing at several satellite campuses, including WSU Vancouver; and many of the state’s other four-year colleges have nursing programs.

The need for well-trained nurses has been evident throughout the pandemic. So has the risks they endure. The Associated Press reported Monday that hundreds of health care workers in Washington have contracted COVID-19, but details are difficult to come by. Most states are not listing professions in their coronavirus reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; using worker’s compensation claims, AP determined that of 806 claims in Washington, 636 were made by health care workers.

“It is important to have this information — not only whether or not a case was a health care worker, but also whether or not we believe they were exposed treating patients or were infected in their community,” said Eric Lofgren, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Washington State.

Nurses have been on the front lines since the outbreak of the disease, enduring health risks and stressful conditions. And they have reminded us that they deserve recognition more frequently than on National Nurses Day.