Does Tucson have a shortage of experienced nurses?

Depends who you ask. Some say yes. Others don't think so.

But what every hospital and medical center does agree on is the need for registered nurses skilled in specialty areas of medicine, local administrators say.

"We definitely look for specialists with regard to neurology, neurosurgery, vascular, cardiology, orthopedics, women's care for OB-GYN," Lisa Contreras, spokeswoman for Carondelet Health Network, said. "Every specialty is looking for nurses who are highly trained in their particular area and also compassionate about that particular specialty. There's also a need for general nurses who are all about quality, compassionate care."

Carondelet operates St. Mary's and St. Joseph's hospitals in Tucson and Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales.

An associate's degree is the minimum requirement to become a licensed registered nurse in Arizona and most hospitals prefer hiring nurses with bachelor of science in nursing degrees.

"A BSN is a better admission ticket," John Zubiena, chief human-resources officer for Northwest Medical Center, said.

Risa Noble, director of talent acquisition for University of Arizona Medical Center, agreed.

"Most of the nursing positions we employ, we are looking for a bachelor of science in nursing," she said.

Though a BSN is preferred, some hospitals will hire registered nurses with associate's degrees or patient-care technicians, and help them earn higher degrees.

"We do support nurses here who have AA degrees and send them on to college. We have a big push to have well-rounded nurses," said registered nurse Sherri Porterfield, a nurse educator with Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.

At the VA and its seven clinics in Southern Arizona, there is a need for nurses to work in the specialty areas of mental health, rehabilitation, hospice, women's care for female vets and polytrauma for vets returning to the United States with multiple injuries, said registered nurse Bernadette Montaño, a clinical educator at the VA.

Come October, Northwest Medical Center will need 15 nurses with certification in rehabilitation care to work in an inpatient rehab facility that is opening, Zubiena said.

"There is not a nursing shortage, but there is a shortage of experienced nurses," he said. "We can only handle so many new graduates at one time and we're really needing to have a balance between the brand-new nurse and the experienced nurse."

Elizabeth Maish, vice president and chief nursing officer at Tucson Medical Center, agreed.

"When you think about what patient-care needs are, you want to be able to deliver patient care with a really good balanced mix of the new, the learning and the expert. That's the reality. You are never going to have a staff of hundreds and hundreds of really expert nurses," she said.

by the numbers

More than 6,000 registered nurses are working at the major hospitals, medical centers and health networks in Southern Arizona.


Carondelet Health Network


Northwest Medical Center


Oro Valley Hospital


Tucson Medical Center


University of Arizona Medical Center


Veterans Administration Health Care System

More help wanted

Number of unfilled jobs for experienced registered nurses at each hospital as of mid-April.

• Carondelet Health Network: 55 at three hospitals, most require specialty training

• Northwest Medical Center: 22, about half of which require specialty training

• Oro Valley Hospital: 6, all require specialty training

• Tucson Medical Center: 20

• University of Arizona Medical Center: 82

• Veterans Administration Health Care System: 13 at various Southern Arizona locations, all require specialty training

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at or at 573-4191.