Military needs a few good nurses

By David Arkin: CNJ Correspondent

Hospitals in the United States have more than 126,000 unfilled nursing positions.

By 2010, some think that number could double.

The figures paint a cloudy and dark picture for hospitals around the country and that includes the one at Cannon Air Force Base.

“The entire nation is facing a nursing shortage,” said Tech Sgt. Bill Malcolm, an Air Force health professions representative, based out of Albuquerque. “The Air Force and Cannon is definitely on that list. We are no different than anybody else.”

Gen. Barbara C. Brannon told a Senate committee recently that 2003 was the Air Force’s best recruiting year since 1998 for nurses. But challenges remain.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2003 that nursing has the largest projected job growth anticipated through 2012. And while bachelor-degree program enrollments for nurses increased across the country last year, 11,000 qualified students were turned away because of limitations in faculty, clinical sites and classrooms.

Brannon said that despite not meeting the Air Force’s nurse recruiting goal for five straight years, the service was only 118 nurses under its authorized “end strength” of 3,862 at the end of 2003. She said that was a 16 percent improvement over the previous year.

This year, the Air Force hopes to recruit 394 new nurses. And a portion of those nurses the Air Force wants to go after will be over the age of 40.

Last year, the Air Force commissioned 25 nurses over the age of 40.

What does all this mean for New Mexico and Cannon Air Force Base?

More nurses are still needed.

Malcolm, who heads up nurse recruiting for all New Mexico and West Texas military bases, said the Air Force is doing a national advertisement campaign that encourages people to seek career professions in the military, such as nursing.
In addition, the Air Force will visit schools.

The Air Force requires its nurses have a bachelor’s degree in science and nursing.

Eastern New Mexico University officials said they graduated nine students from their nursing program last year.

“The average age of our students is 40-years-old,” said Ellen Bral, director of nursing at ENMU. “So many of them have ties to Cannon, normally through their spouses. … We’ve had a few that have gone on to work there as nurses.”
But even with a degree, nursing for the Air Force can be a difficult job to land.

Applicants must first pass a medical exam. Then a panel of Air Force nurses review applications. The process can take several months.

Once an individual is accepted into the Air Force, he or she is sent to a four-week orientation course.

“It’s commissioned officer training,” Malcolm said. “It’s not basic training. It’s for people who are already established in a certain profession.”