The Alaska Nurses Association (AaNA) is celebrating nurses this week with a series of events in Anchorage, including a fun run on Saturday. National Nurses Week was designated in 1993 by the American Nursing Association to celebrate and elevate the profession.

Here in Alaska, nurses are in high demand. 

The Alaska Department of Labor estimates the state will have 10,000 new health care related jobs to fill by the year 2026, a 20% increase from the year 2016. The expected increase in need is linked to Alaska's fast-growing senior population. But recruitment and retention of nurses, particularly in rural areas, has been a primary focus of the state's Office of Healthcare Access

"It's a demanding profession," says Donna Phillips, who has been a nurse for 40 years and serves as the Labor Council Chair at AaNA. "But we've seen tremendous growth just in our bargaining units across the state. We've gone from about 1,000 nurses 20 years ago, up to about 1,500 nurses that we represent throughout the State of Alaska."

The Alaska Legislature is also looking down the road ahead. Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 93 earlier this month, aimed at bolstering the state's loan repayment and monetary incentive program, known as SHARP.  The measure still requires approval from Gov. Mike Dunleavy in order to become law.  

"That's a great way for nurses to come to the state of Alaska and work in areas that are a little harder to fill outside of the Anchorage Bowl," Phillips said about SB 93. "They can get loan re-payment through this program. So while nurses are coming out of school with higher loans than I ever had when I went to school, it's a great way to get some of your loans paid off through donations, either from nonprofits, and health care facilities can donate, and then fill those jobs up through that re-payment program."

AaNA is encouraging all Alaskans to "Love a Nurse" this weekend. The annual 5k run starts at Flattop Ski Area in Anchorage on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Proceeds benefit Abused Women's Aid in Crisis (AWAIC). Those who want to take part can register online.


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