ATLANTA - Facing a lack of nurses and other health-care professionals, the state's colleges and universities should attract more educators and accept more students interested in medical careers, a University System of Georgia panel said Wednesday.
In its report, a task force highlighted what is expected to be a major shortage in the number of nurses and other medical workers in the next few years.
The state already is short of its current needs by thousands of nurses, Medical College of Georgia President Dr. Daniel W. Rahn told the state Board of Regents. And projections show Georgia will need as many as 20,000 more nurses by 2012.
Meanwhile, about 1,900 students graduated last year from the university system who were eligible to become registered nurses, while the Department of Technical and Adult Education added 200 graduates, said Dr. Rahn, who headed the task force.
"Do the math," Dr. Rahn said. "Do the math. There's a very substantial gap."
And the state turned as many as 4,000 would-be nursing students away even though they were qualified for the programs, Dr. Rahn said. He said there wasn't enough money, space or teachers to handle any more students.
"It's a big shame to see that we've got these kinds of deficits and we're turning the very people away that we need to solve the problem," said outgoing board Chairman Tim Shelnut, who represents the Augusta area.
Dr. Rahn said the system has made strides toward increasing the number of candidates graduating from its schools, but the boost is not enough. Meanwhile, fewer nursing students have graduated with degrees that would allow them to teach.
"At the same time, we have kind of put our future at risk. ... If we are to expand capacity, we need more faculty," he said.
Luring faculty could require the state to compete with private employers that offer larger salaries, Dr. Rahn said. And that could increase competition for faculty, endangering some programs.