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Washington needs 6k new nurses. This new program could help — a little

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There are lots of vacant jobs out there for registered nurses — in Washington state, about 6,000 of them. That nursing shortage can mean hospitals have to hire travel nurses at expensive rates, or sometimes they’re not able to staff all of their beds, which can lead to long wait times for patients.

Now, universities across the country, including one in the Puget Sound area, are starting new programs that aim to address that nursing shortage by getting people who want nursing jobs ready for them faster.

Normally, it takes four years to become a nurse. That means even if programs add more students, it’s a long time before there are more nurses ready to care for patients. Accelerated nursing programs, on the other hand, can train new nurses in 12 to 18 months.

In the Northwest, the University of Washington already has an accelerated nursing program. This fall, Pacific Lutheran University launched a new program to train new registered nurses in only about 16 months at its satellite campus in Lynnwood.

The students in Pacific Lutheran University's program “are getting equivalent training and education” to students in four-year programs, said Bridget Scott-Fletcher, a PLU nursing professor. “They are doing clinicals, and they’re getting a full gamut of experience so that when they graduate, they are confident, competent, and ready.”

Accelerated programs make it possible for non-traditional students — people who might already have a job, or a spouse and kids, for example — take the leap and switch to a career in nursing; taking 16 months to study can be more doable than taking four years off from working.

“Our students have very diverse backgrounds,” Scott-Fletcher said. “I have students who [are] coming out of careers such as marine science, a student who’s coming from a teaching career in elementary education, IT as well.”

Most accelerated nursing degrees, including the one at the University of Washington, require students to already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. The Pacific Lutheran University program requires only about two years of college, along with certain prerequisites like anatomy and organic chemistry.

Pacific Lutheran University's program currently has 24 students who started in September. They’ll graduate in about a year. By 2025, the program will graduate about 170 students annually.

Correction 3/6/23: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Central Washington University has an accelerated nursing program. It does not.

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