A traveling nurse in a COVID-19 ward at Lovelace Hospital in November 2021. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)


Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal


New Mexico, like other states, is facing a nursing shortage. And as the state continues to grow with an aging population, it’s more important than ever to raise up the next generation of nurses with new approaches by educational institutions to meet that demand for health care.

Those are the sentiments of local nursing experts who spoke at the Economic Forum of Albuquerque on Wednesday morning at the Embassy Suites.

“Most of us think of our hospitals and our education institutions as anchors, but specifically for the nursing workforce it’s truly essential to the economic stability of the city,” said Rachael Frija, corporate director of clinical education for Ardent Health Services and president of the New Mexico Nurses Association.

Other panelists included University of New Mexico College of Nursing Dean Christine Kasper, Central New Mexico Community College Dean of the School of Nursing & Patient Support Diane Evans-Prior and UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center president and CEO Jamie Silva-Steele.

Frija, in her presentation to local business leaders and government officials, said the state has about 17,000 registered nurses – short of what is needed for a healthy and stable nursing workforce. For comparison, Arizona has about 58,000 and Colorado about 80,000, she said.

But New Mexico’s nursing workforce is expected to grow over the next five years by about 11%, most of those jobs which will come in the metro area. That’s a good sign, Frija said, but that doesn’t mean the work stops there – especially with an aging population.

Evans-Prior, who was named the dean at CNM over the summer, pointed to census data that shows New Mexico’s 65 and over population has increased by 30%. On the other hand, the under-20 population dropped by about 9%, she added.

“That is a future pipeline issue that we need to be aware of,” Evans-Prior said.

Addressing the decrease of younger people while trying to grow the nursing workforce needs the aid of schools such as UNM and CNM.

And UNM is expected to kickstart a new accelerated program for those who have a bachelor of science degree to get a bachelor of science in nursing in just one year, Kasper said. Initial enrollment in the program is expected to be at about 24 students, with the goal of getting up to 100 students.

Silva-Steele said there needs to be more than just focusing on getting new nurses into the fold – there needs to be a focus on retention as well.

“Our commitment is to continue to think strategically and outside of the box around ways that we can bring back a workforce,” Silva-Steele said.