Americans are applying to nursing school in record numbers. Unfortunately, the only thing many of the applicants end up nursing is a bruised ego.
In 2012, U.S. nursing schools rejected more than 80,000 qualified applicants. It's not as if the schools didn't want to admit them. Rather, they don't have enough faculty -- especially nurses with doctorates -- to teach more students.
That's a problem, as the United States will need 1 million new nurses by 2020.
At many nursing schools, tuition and grants are insufficient to cover the costs of hiring additional nurses with doctorates. To generate the cash they need to solve that problem -- and narrow the looming shortage of nurses -- schools should consider expanding beyond teaching and into entrepreneurship.
Nurses with doctorates are possibly the most versatile cogs in the U.S. health care system. They conduct research, do clinical work, and teach aspiring nurses. As researchers, these nurses examine the science and practice of nursing. Their work often combines the scientific elements of health care research with the more practical side of patient care.
This research can lead to new methods of pain management or medical devices such as the StethoClean, a self-cleaning stethoscope that prevents germs from being transferred among patients. It was invented by a nurse.
Because they understand the science and the practice of the profession, nurses with doctorates are invaluable resources for students. That's why the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends that all teaching faculty at nursing schools hold doctoral degrees.
Unfortunately, only about 1 percent of nurses in the United States have a doctorate, and that's not enough. More often, though, it's because of the significantly higher salaries they stand to earn outside academia.
Philanthropic groups are trying to help fill this funding gap. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for example, has invested $20 million to help pay for nurses seeking doctorates across the country. But charitable gifts alone won't cut it. Nursing schools need another source of income. They just might find it by deputizing their faculty as health care entrepreneurs.
Nurses with doctorates are uniquely positioned to develop new health care technology. Whether they're administering medicines, utilizing medical devices or inputting data into the latest computer program adopted by hospitals, they have more hands-on experience with health care technology than anyone else in the system. To turn that technological aptitude into revenue, though, nursing schools have to partner with the business community.
Some schools are doing so. At the University of Utah, for instance, our Center for Medical Innovation provides seed funding for faculty members developing health care technology. It then links the innovators with business experts who can help them produce and market their technology.
In exchange, the university receives a share of the profits from intellectual property that is developed. It can then use the revenues to hire more nurses.
Other schools have adopted similar strategies. In March, the Midwest University HealthTech Showcase brought investors and industry professionals together to check out 50 early-stage health care start-ups at nine Midwestern colleges.
The young tech firms showed inventions ranging from gesture recognition software for smartphones to small-molecule drugs for post-traumatic stress disorder.
That's the sort of platform where inventions from nurses with doctorates can shine.
To solve our nation's impending shortage of nurses, universities will need to get creative. Empowering nursing faculty members to become entrepreneurs can give schools the funding they need to educate the next generation of nurses.