Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare another health care crisis that's been brewing for years — the critical shortage of nurses. While the growing, aging U.S. population needs more medical care than ever, the supply of nurses and instructors to teach them is not keeping pace with demand.

These shortages have increased because many in the current nursing pool are baby boomers who have reached or are approaching retirement age. And more nurses left the field due to the pandemic-induced stresses of the job.

To address the problem, a new collaborative effort of Minnesota nursing schools is sensibly stepping up to help increase the ranks of RNs. This week the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State announced the Coalition for Nursing Excellence and Equity, an initiative designed to make nursing education more successful and innovative without increasing costs. And they want to bring more people of color and underrepresented groups into the profession.

The smart goal is to increase the number of students at every one of the nursing programs in the state to boost the pool of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). The coalition works to remove any racial, systemic or financial barriers for nursing candidates that get in the way of considering a nursing career. More federal grants are available to nursing students, for example, if they agree to work in rural areas or other places with a shortage after graduation.

Schools in the coalition also wisely plan to improve nursing preparation through greater use of technology and simulations that will better ready students for the real-life stresses of the job. In addition to this effort, some nursing schools already offer alternative training programs to the traditional four-year track. Students with existing college degrees started their first hands-on classes this week. They are participating in a program that can earn them a master's degree in 16 months.

"Continuing to do what we've been doing won't address the current nursing shortage or the even greater one our state is facing in the very near future," Connie White Delaney, dean of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, told the Star Tribune. "We aren't keeping up," she said, calling the current situation "the most dire nursing shortage at least in decades."

The effort will spread across the larger nursing programs at the U and the Minnesota State system. It will also occur in private institutions, such as St. Catherine University, that have nursing programs.

Minnesota, of course, is not alone in dealing with a nursing shortage. According to the American Nurses Association, the need for nurses aligns with all-time highs in increased demand for health care. The ANA estimates that more than a million new nurses need to join the workforce over the next few years to prevent an even more critical shortage.

And the association points out that solving nursing crises requires schools and health care providers to provide more information about health care careers, build public awareness and education about the needs, recruit new nurses and support working conditions that reduce turnover.

To do that, they must conduct public relations campaigns to get the word out and connect candidates with information about government funding. Some states, for example, offer incentives including tax credits, scholarships and loan repayment programs. Federal programs provide financial aid to nurses who agree to work in areas with critical shortages.

Collaborations such as the Coalition for Nursing Excellence and Equity merit praise and support to fill a growing and critical need.