HONOLULU (KHON2) — The shortage of critical care nurses is taking a toll on Hawaii’s medical system.

Hawaii Pacific University BSN Chair Dr. Michelle Higgins said part of the problem is having the resources to educate them.

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“We’re turning away students into nursing schools because we don’t have enough educators, and we don’t have enough facilities to actually take them in,” Dr. Higgins said.

Oftentimes, the only way for nurses to be trained in critical care or other specialized areas is to be hired in one of those fields.

“When you finally become a nurse, our new grads have such a hard time competing for the jobs here because there’s so little jobs.” Dr. Higgins said.

So far, some relief has come to the state by means of federal travel nurses.

“We pay them more than we pay our staff nurses. Yes, it tries to help compensate for their housing, but still, they’re making, you know, at least 25% more than what the other nurses are making.”

So how does Hawaii get local nurses trained to be hired for these positions?

Dr. Higgins said internships have all but stopped during COVID as hospitals worry about exposure, but there are few other ways to get them trained.

“I think one of the best solutions is to take these new nurses and, and train them, orient them to these, these critical care sites that, that we, we so desperately need nurses to be in. It may take three to four months to train them. But I think it’s worth it,” Dr. Higgins said.

Other ways, like high-tech mannequins and virtual reality goggles, may be expensive up-front but could be less than the ongoing threat of economic restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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“I think the government needs to help step in a little bit and say look, we’re in a crisis. This is a humanitarian effort, and start helping the schools to be able to afford these things,” Dr. Higgins said.