Nursing courses at Scottish universities have not been filled for the second year running, Ucas figures show as acceptance numbers fell 11%.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned students need better financial support to help them pursue a career in the profession.
It comes after data published on Thursday showed 3,520 people were accepted to study nursing across Scottish universities in 2023.
The Scottish Government’s target is for 4,536 students to be pre-registered on to nursing courses, but the target has been missed for two consecutive years – meaning there is a shortfall of around 800 qualified nurses, the union said.
Meanwhile, the figures show more than 3,700 vacancies exist in the profession across NHS Scotland and 65% of adult care homes report nursing vacancies.
Responding to the data, the RCN has urged ministers to conduct a regular review of the level of support available to nursing students to make sure it rises in accordance with the cost of living.
The professional body has also said a clinical placement process should be established to allow students to claim during placements and remove barriers which could result in students falling into financial hardship.
Eileen McKenna, RCN Scotland associate director, said the data is “extremely worrying”.
She added: “Scotland doesn’t have the nursing workforce it needs today and the failure to fill university places means the future is looking even more challenging.
“Nursing is a fantastic career choice, full of variety and opportunity. It’s a hugely diverse profession attracting people of all ages and from all walks of life, often as a second career. However, being a nurse should not be at the expense of your personal wellbeing and financial security.
“The Scottish Government must demonstrate that nursing is a valued career worth pursuing. They need to ensure that current and future nursing students get improved financial support to allow them to prioritise their education without falling into financial hardship.
“The ministerial nursing and midwifery taskforce is looking at the issues behind the nursing workforce challenges and will be proposing actions to address these. These actions must be backed by the financial resources to deliver change and ensure nursing is positioned as a career of choice.”
In 2022, 3,850 students were accepted on to a nursing course in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country