CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- A $5 million gift was pledged to UNC-Chapel Hill in an effort to meet the need for more nurses in North Carolina.
The donation will make nursing education more affordable and bring in more educators, according to UNC-Chapel Hill.
"The gift will provide considerable partial support for up to 250 undergraduate nursing students each year and will help the school expand enrollment by up to 50%," UNC-Chapel Hill said.
It comes at a time when nurses are leaving because of aging out or retiring.
"The North Carolina Institute of Medicine did a study, and (it) predicted that around this time of 2020, to 2025, we would have a significant shortage given that the baby-boomer nurses were going to be leaving the workforce, as well as we weren't producing enough," immediate past North Carolina Nurses Association president Dr. Dennis Taylor said.
North Carolina is short 5,000 to 8,000 nurses per year.
"All units feel it," UNC Health nurse Cecilia Perez said. "We will think that we're adequately staffed and then our unit will have to float other nurses to other floors to help supplement them so we're never really fully staffed ever."
While nursing schools can produce at least 4,000 nurses, it's not enough to fill the widening gap, according to Taylor.
"It's not that there's a lack of interest in the profession or the field," Taylor said. "We can't get folks to teach."
UNC nursing student Katie Robinson said it's daunting to pursue this career but her passion trumps fears.
"We feel really emotionally supported and prepared to enter a workforce, but also we want to be a part of solutions," Robinson said.
Oriana Messer echoed Robinson as they prepare to complete Carolina Nursing's ABSN program in July.
"As nurses ... being one of the largest workforce in the country, I think that there is a lot of opportunity to exert pressure on the systems that are contributing to nurse burnout and nursing shortages," Messer said.
Taylor said it may take as many as five years before the workforce can be educated, oriented and up to speed.
"Unfortunately, there's no real quick fix for this," Taylor said.
Healthcare systems can lose nearly $100,000 per nurse despite efforts such as higher pay, alternative schedules and child care to retain them.
"They do incentive pay to get people to pick up more shifts," Perez said. "I'm really fortunate to have a really great culture with my unit, so we want to come in and help because we know what it's like when everyone's spread thin."
However, there are other ways to maintain the status quo, according to Taylor.
"You don't have to spend a lot to be able to put in policies and procedures where nurses feel like their voice is being heard, where they feel like when they go to work, they go to work in a safe environment," Taylor said.