As many would-be nurses fail their exams, Florida’s nursing pipeline is in shambles

Nurses walking through hallway — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Monkey Business Images

Florida’s nursing education system is experiencing significant issues as a result of the state’s mounting nursing shortage. Every year, thousands of nursing school graduates fall short of the licensing requirement, failing at the last hurdle.

Before they can work anywhere in the country, registered and practical nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination. And more Florida nursing students drop out of school than anyplace else in the country.

In 2021, fewer than two-thirds of them passed the test. According to a recent analysis from the Florida Center for Nursing at the University of South Florida, that is the lowest pass rate in the country, dropping more than 17 percentage points below the national average.

Florida nursing programs are not all failing. The majority of the public universities, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations in the state have pass rates for both registered and practical nurses that are at or above the national norms. Many of the private, for-profit schools that enroll thousands of students each year and have pass rates below 50% are the source of the issue.

According to Florida Hospital Association CEO Mary Mayhew, the study comes at a time of unparalleled nursing scarcity.

According to Mayhew, there are more than one in five open nursing positions in Florida hospitals, and employee turnover is at an all-time high.

Hospitals and nursing homes all around the state are struggling with the personnel shortage.

According to a 2021 report from the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, hospitals are expected to run out of nurses by 59,100 by 2035 unless the state can reverse the trend.

More registered nurses than ever before are coming from Florida. In 2021, more than 12,400 licensed registered nurses completed the national exam, an almost 30 percent increase over the previous five years. Despite being the largest graduating class of licensed nurses in the country, the demand for nurses is still too high.

Rayna Letourneau, an assistant professor of nursing at USF and executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing, which is focused on finding solutions to address the shortage, said the state is heading for a cliff unless educators can graduate more nurses capable of passing the final exam.

More than $125 million was granted by Governor Ron DeSantis in May to increase nursing education in the state. But there haven’t been many benefits to expanding enrollment in Florida’s nursing programs.

“When we look at the state as a whole it looks really bad, but you have to hone in to see the patterns,” Letourneau said.

“Nursing is hard. It’s life and death every day and you have to be prepared,” Fuller said. “And you need to know your (school) will train you right.”

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