Fewer nurses passing licensing exams in Florida as critical shortage continues

Nurses are needed now more than ever, and fewer nurses are passing their licensing exams in Florida, adding to the nursing shortage. 

"Right now, we have a critical shortage. We have many vacancies across all specialties of the nursing workforce," said Rayna Letourneau, an assistant professor with the University of South Florida and executive director with Florida Center for Nursing. "Our first-time pass rates in 2022 have declined since 2021 and 2020. So, we've seen a decline over the past three years, and that's also consistent with what we've seen nationally."

The center’s latest report on nursing education explores the issue. Pass rate for exams for registered nurses went from 68.9% in 2020 to 63.8% in 2022, and pass rates for practical nurse exams went from 67% in 2020 to 65.5% last year. Those are all pandemic years, and they likely hurt students.

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"In 2020, many organizations suspended clinical experiences that provided direct patient care for our nursing students," said Letourneau. "The hands-on experience and direct patient care experience is critical to the success of new nurses coming into our workforce."

The center also found the quality of education matters. According to the report, more nursing students from accredited programs pass the exams than those in non-accredited programs, 76% compared to 18%. 

"We do want a robust pipeline, but we need to ensure that we are filling those vacancies with qualified safe nurses," said Letourneau.

Fixing the problem will take stronger nursing programs and hospitals keeping who they have.

"That's everybody's goal is to make sure that we have enough nurses that provide safe care to our patients when they are in need," she said.

Florida Center for Nursing said it is putting together a best practices list to help the state’s schools, including professional development for faculty and hiring more nursing teachers. Many colleges added more nursing programs because of the pandemic, but the center found there still isn’t enough space for all qualified students, which can use improvement as well.