Health Care

OPINION: Parents, Teachers Must Motivate Youth to Consider Nursing Career

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The Orlando Sentinel published an April 2 opinion/editorial piece (subscription required) co-authored by Edwin I. Hernandez, PhD, president and CEO of AdventHealth University, and Sheryl Moorhead, RN, BSN, MS, chief people officer for AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division. Their essay advocates stemming the national nursing shortfall from all possible sides, starting with our youth.


Many kids fantasize about being a doctor, a professional athlete, or a police officer. Unfortunately, we don’t often hear kids answer that they want to be a nurse when they grow up. Our country and region’s nursing workforce is experiencing a dire shortage, and we are worried what a future with fewer nurses will mean for how our parents, our children, our community will be cared for.

AdventHealth University President and CEO Edwin I. Hernandez
Edwin I. Hernandez

Both of us have amazing mothers who served as nurses and we saw firsthand how they made a difference in so many lives.

Their work no doubt inspired us to find a home in health care as well.

When we ask nursing students how their path led them into nursing, we generally receive one of two responses. They either had a close family member, like we did, who found great meaning in working in health care. Or, they had a positive experience as a young patient and felt called to provide that same great care for others.

This makes us wonder: Are we doing enough as parents, teachers and communities to motivate children and teens to become nurses? Are we conveying and portraying nurses as valiant and vital in everyday conversation, entertainment, and lessons?

According to a recent report by the Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, our state is projected to face a shortfall of 59,100 nurses by 2035 if we don’t make drastic changes in how we inspire, recruit, and support nursing students and nurses.

Chief People Officer Sheryl Moorhead
Sheryl Moorhead

Imagine a world where nurse-to-patient ratios would need to triple or quadruple. Some health facilities would likely need to close because of staffing shortages. America’s health care systems would be crippled.

This situation sounds an urgent alarm to which we must respond.

Fortunately, the best minds and hearts are working hard to stem this nursing deficit. One area rich with possibility is our youth. What if we, as parents, teachers and health care leaders, encouraged our preteens and teens to:

  • Take health care field trips or shadow nurses. Field trips to health care settings or job shadowing a nurse are sometimes discouraged because of children’s developing immune systems, youth misbehavior, or potentially disturbing situations they may see. Nursing is fast-paced, but with the right instructions and precautions, we say: Why not?
  • Become health care volunteers. Let’s provide teens opportunities to get out from behind a desk at a clinic or hospital and interact with patients as transporters or waiting room guides as well as time to learn in the pharmacy and lab. These places are where the magic happens!
  • Learn even while they are sick or injured. When your child is sick may not seem the ideal time for anatomy lessons, but the right words from a nurse can inspire a young mind. Ask your doctor and nurse questions during your visit. Nurses, take an extra step with your patients to explain what you are doing and to talk to them about your day. Informal interactions like this make a difference.
  • Help the community. Raising funds or performing community service can both help improve community health and stir young imaginations. Encourage your child to donate a toy to a pediatric patient during Christmas. Raise money for cancer research and awareness. Creating a culture of compassion among youth is important, and caring individuals often discover a path to nursing.
  • Explore STEM. While we emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics in our schools, this is a great time to teach about clinical roles that may not be as well known, such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and specialty nurses. We’d love to see STEM used to encourage nursing careers.

These are just a few ways we can plant seeds. Parents and teachers, we urge you to join us in playing a vital role in inspiring the next generation of nurses. We all will benefit from having compassionate, resilient nurses hold our hand or stand at our bedside when we or our family members need them the most.

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