Amid severe shortage of nurses, Hawaii nursing schools reject 100s of qualified applicants

The reason: There aren’t enough instructors to teach them.
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 3:25 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 14, 2022 at 5:31 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - While Hawaii’s hospitals grapple with a dire shortage of nurses, nursing schools across the state are rejecting hundreds of qualified applicants.

The reason: There aren’t enough instructors to teach them.

Officials say the number of instructor vacancies has doubled since 2016.

Of the 131 full-time teaching positions at nursing schools across Hawaii, 24 need to be filled.

At University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Nursing, first-year students were in the school’s simulation center Tuesday, getting a taste of what it’s like to be a caregiver on the frontline.

It’s a career more than 1,500 qualified applicants tried to pursue at nursing schools across Hawaii last year.

But over 800 of those prospective students ― more than half ― never made it to the classroom.

“We can’t admit students because we don’t have the experts who can be professors and instructors in nursing school,” said Laura Reichhardt, director of the State Center for Nursing.

She said Hawaii’s faculty shortage is one of the worst in the country.

Reichhardt said most of the instructor positions require at least a master’s degree, preferably a doctoral degree.

But the starting salary for an instructor is about $80,000. That’s about $25,000 less than what a registered nurse can make starting off working on the floor at a hospital.

“I think in Hawaii today, the challenge may be that our cost of living is so high,” said Reichhardt.

“The economics of maintaining your household is something that makes staying in clinical more favorable. Particularly on the neighbor islands.”

In addition to instructor shortages on campus, there’s also a lack of clinical training sites.

Right now, hospitals, long-term care facilities and community health clinics are so busy it’s hard for staff there to accommodate more people.

“That includes students among the unit because that just adds to the number of things they have to pay attention to,” said Clementina Ceria-Ulep, interim dean of UH-Manoa’s Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing .

Natalie Welch is expected to graduate from the UH program in May.

Amid the severe nursing shortage, she says she wants to start her career serving the community she grew up in.

“My goal is to work at a level-one trauma center, in the ICU at Queen’s Medical Center,” she said. “I worked there as a nursing assistant and I really love the facility and all the people.”

In an attempt to cultivate more instructors, UH-Manoa now has a Nursing Education and Leadership Program geared towards registered nurses who’d like to pass their knowledge and wisdom onto the next generation.