By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Front Range Community College announced it has received approval for a four-year Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree as the state tries to create more ways to get students into this career path and address the nurse shortage.

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“There were a lot of options, tons. I applied to a lot,” remembers Julia Sayler, a nursing student in Denver. “What school would get me the degree I want with the hands on experience I need to work in the hospitals.”

Sayler is completing an accelerated program to get her BSN after finishing her associate’s degree in high school and getting her Certified Nurse’s Assistant license. While there were enough options for her, she is glad to see another way to get students into the profession.

Copter4 flew over the state Capitol (credit: CBS)

Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers gave community colleges the chance to offer a four-year option at a time when state leaders believe there needs to be more BSN graduates in the field.

“I think it’s great, because a lot of people can’t afford the four year experience,” said Sayler. “We need more younger people out there.”

Julia Sayler (credit: CBS)

The Colorado Department of Higher Education hosted a discussion on Wednesday to address the nursing shortage in the state. Panelists included executives in the healthcare industry, academic leaders, and advocates for the profession. The group reviewed statistics that outlined the current shortfall in nurses and the projections for Colorado’s future.

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“The fact that I am able to help people, take care of people, and be there for them,” Sayler explained about her desire to become a nurse. “We need people to realize that it’s not all about starting IVs and cleaning all this stuff up.”

There are 2,912 openings on average every year for nurses, but in 2016, only 2,558 people graduated with degrees, according to the state’s 2017 Talent Pipeline Report. A difference of 354 nurses that were needed.

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The outlook into the next decade could be worse with a shortfall of 13,000 nurses by 2025. The state will need 59,000, but only supply 46,100, according to the U.S. Department of Human Services. The data was based on 2012 trends, and newer research from 2015 trends shows in 2030 the numbers could flip. The demand would grow to 63,200 jobs, but stay below the supply of 72,500 nurses. State leaders say this data alone is not enough to understand the full picture.

“I heard it’s great, I heard it’s challenging,” said Sayler. “But I heard it’s wonderful and it’s a great experience.”

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Sayler is close to finishing her education at the Denver College of Nursing and begin working as a nurse. She is not deterred by the trend of a shortage or what others have said about the job.

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Another factor to consider in the equation is the age of everyone involved. People in Colorado are getting older, more of them are older than 65 and will need additional medical attention. The same is true of nurses in the state, 35 percent are now older than 55 with those in the profession usually retiring around 58.

“It’s a little nerve wracking,” said Sayler.  “You’re not in that situation alone.”

She says getting through nursing school comes down to having a group of people you can rely on and once you become a professional the same will still be true.

“Friends and study groups are the most important thing,” she said. “They will help you get through the high and low times of nursing school.”

A final area of study for the discussion of state leaders is geography. They report the number of older physicians is significantly higher in rural counties of Colorado. Some places seeing 50 to 100 percent over 55 years old while urban areas seeing that population at less than 25 percent.

“It’s about being there for people when they need people the most,” Sayler said about her decision to become a nurse.

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As a future BSN gradate, she is on a track the state says they need more students to follow. The Institute of Medicine has research showing that BSN trained nurses have better patient outcomes and is recommending 80 percent of nurses have that degree by 2020. Other states across the country are increasing the number of community colleges that can provide that degree along with Colorado.

A move that if successful, will allow future and current nurses to focus on the job itself.

“You’re the one that’s taking care of them,” said Sayler. “You’re the one that’s going to be in the room when they’re having the hardest time of the day.”

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Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.