Rep. Bonamici, other congressional members introduce bill to increase nursing faculty

A shortage of nursing teachers stems from lower wages paid to faculty compared to nurses with master’s degrees who work in a clinical setting

By: - January 19, 2024 5:45 am
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Nurse performs rapid test for AIDS, syphilis and hepatitis. (Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of congressional members, including an Oregon Democrat, are pushing bills to bolster the nursing workforce by encouraging more professionals to teach nursing.

A bill in the U.S. House, the Nurse Faculty Shortage Reduction Act, would authorize a $28.5 million-a-year grant over five years to help nursing schools retain and attract more staff. 

Nursing schools do not have enough teachers to meet the demand in Oregon and elsewhere. A survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that nursing schools in the U.S. turned away nearly 92,000 qualified applicants for nursing programs in 2021 due to a lack of faculty and other issues.

Oregon has 21 programs that offer associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in nursing, according to a study last year by the Oregon Longitudinal Data Collaborative, an education research group. It found that in 2020 only four of those programs accepted more than 50% of qualified applicants.

“Current capacity is not meeting the needs of Oregon’s prospective qualified nursing students,” it said. 

And that, in turn, has led to a nursing shortage. According to the Oregon Board of Nursing, the state has more than 84,000 registered nurses and more than 6,000 licensed practical nurses, though not all of them are practicing. The study found that Oregon could use up to about 21,600 more registered nurses to care for patients.

“Without more nurse faculty, we won’t be able to educate enough nurses to provide the care Oregonians need,” said Kevin Mealy, a spokesman for the Oregon Nurses Association.

Attracting faculty is tough, Mealy said: Less than 15% of registered nurses have a master’s degree that they need to teach. And as faculty, they would earn much less than in a hospital or health care setting. The study found that nursing faculty in Oregon earn nearly $49,000 less than their counterparts in clinical settings.

“It’s extremely difficult to convince nurses to spend years getting an advanced degree, and going deeper into student debt, in order to make much less than they’re making now,” Mealy said. “Nearly every nurse educator I know has to work a second job as an on-call nurse. Unless you’re retired, you can’t afford to teach full-time.”

Nationwide, an advanced practice registered nurse makes a median salary of about $120,000 a year. That compares with about $87,000 a year for a nursing faculty member with a master’s degree, according to a news release about the proposal.

The bill would require nursing schools, like those in Oregon at the University of Portland, George Fox University in Newberg and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, to apply for a grant. Priority would be given to programs that serve vulnerable populations and recruit and retain faculty from underrepresented backgrounds, according to the release.

The legislation is endorsed by the Oregon Nurses Association as well as the American Nurses Association and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska.

Bonamici supports bill

In the House, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat who represents Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, is among the members behind the proposal. She is co-chair of the Congressional Nursing Caucus, along with David Joyce, an Ohio Republican. They introduced the bill, along with Republican Rep. Jennifer Kiggans of Virginia and Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Democrat from Illinois. The latter two representatives are former nurses.

“Nursing is a profession that saves and changes lives, but Oregon and too many states across the country don’t have enough nurses,” Bonamici said in a statement. “There are many qualified people who want to enter this noble profession, but nursing schools don’t have enough faculty to teach them.”

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Bonamici worked closely on the bill with OHSU, and officials from Portland State University and George Fox participated in a recent roundtable on the topic, according to her spokeswoman, Natalie Crofts. 

The Hospital Association of Oregon, which represents all hospitals in the state, welcomed the legislation.  

“The bill would build on our package of workforce investments from the 2023 Oregon Legislature, a collaborative effort with labor and other stakeholders that passed with bipartisan support,” Goodman said.

Oregon lawmakers proposed several pieces of legislation last year aimed at bolstering the nursing workforce and faculty. One that passed, House Bill 3396, included amendments authorizing $5 million to bolster nursing faculty in Oregon, particularly at OHSU and community colleges. Though Gov. Tina Kotek signed the bill in July, the money has still not gone into effect. A spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority, Erica Heartquist, said the contract has been delayed but provided no more details.

The bill also dedicated $15 million for clinical training in hospitals and health care settings, something that student nurses need for their degree, and $5 million for on-the-job training for other health care professionals. 

In another effort, OHSU obtained nearly $4 million from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to create an academy of nursing in 2022 to boost the number of nursing faculty and clinical mentors. All nurses who enroll in the academy receive scholarships to cover at least most of their tuition. The academy aims to increase the number of graduates by 30% by 2030.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.

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