The Business of Health

The Future of Nursing in Reno

By Matt McDaniel

In the past decade, the number of workers in Nevada’s health care industry grew by 40 percent, the third highest of any industry according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the total growth for all industries in Nevada was only 6.5 percent.

Among health care occupations, nursing is by far the largest. Last year, there were more than 3,000 registered nurses working in Reno and Sparks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Along with strong employment numbers, registered nurses on average make $73,000 a year locally.

The stability and good pay has encouraged many students to apply for the nursing program at the University of Nevada, Reno. Due to the increasing volume of applicants, the Orvis School of Nursing recently doubled the number of students they accepted into the nursing program, now admitting 64 new students a semester.

Patsy Ruchala, the director of the Orvis School of Nursing, says that even with the increase in enrollment, the school still denies many applications.

“We have between 110 and 120 some students who apply, qualified applicants,” Ruchala says.  “So it is very competitive.”

Ruchala also points out that Reno has the only baccalaureate nursing program in northern Nevada. A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80 percent of nurses have a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2020. Traditionally, many nurses only had an associates degree, but the new nursing standards are prompting students to enroll in a four-year program. Last year alone, 93 students graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, while only 22 students finished with their Associate Degree in Nursing, according to the University of Nevada Office of Institutional Analysis.

“It’s important for nurses to have the highest level of education they can,” Ruchala says.

Nursing’s competitive atmosphere seems to be paying off. There are 7,000 more registered nurses in Nevada than a decade ago, according to a report last year from the University of Nevada School of Medicine. This surge in nursing has helped Nevada’s health care industry provide 10 percent of the all jobs in the state.

Despite the growth in Nevada’s health care industry, the state still has many issues to overcome. Nevada’s health care workforce falls behind the 12 percent national average. The School of Medicine’s report also shows that Nevada is falling behind in many other public health rankings. For instance, Nevada ranked 50th in the nation for public health funding, as well as 50th in the number of nurses per 100,000 people.

While the increased enrollment in the university’s nursing program aims to improve these rankings, many experts are worried that Nevada is running out of time. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing predicts that there will be a national shortage of registered nurses in the next 15 years.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the shortage, including the increasing percentage of people over 65 years old. Many nurses, who act as caregivers to the elderly, are also getting older, as the average age rose to 44 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recent health care reforms have further impacted the health care industry, as 600,000 Nevadans are expected to receive health insurance, according to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Resources.

These issues may stall the recent progress that Nevada has made in health care. The School of Medicine advises Nevada policy makers to improve data collection and analysis for the state’s health care industry. By analyzing supply and demand for health care workers, Nevada can better prepare for the nursing shortage and other issues with health care.

Photo By Stina Fausone

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