Nurses comprise the greatest number of health care workers in the United States, with close to 2.7 million registered nurses serving nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nursing is expected to be one of the fastest-growing professions at about 19 percent annually from 2011 to 2022. As this growth rate increases, a nursing shortage looms in the health care industry.
Between 2012 and 2025, the demand for nurses is expected to outpace supply. Assuming that current training levels stay constant, the demand for nurses is expected to rise from 2,897,000 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in 2012 to 3,849,000 FTEs in 2025, a 33 percent rise. So what exactly is fueling this level of demand?
Reasons for the Nursing Shortage
The retirement of baby boomers will introduce 2-3 million additional patients into the Medicare system each year, and the Affordable Care Act introduced about 8 million people into the system who were previously not eligible. This level of demand is one of the main reasons that a nursing shortage is expected to occur. As the demand for health care services increase, so does the demand for nurses.
Additionally, there are not enough trained and employed nursing faculty to teach nurses the necessary skills. Close to 78,000 nursing applicants are being turned away each year due to the nursing faculty shortage.
“We did see this shortage coming,” said Pamela Cipriano, president of the American Nurses Association and a research associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing. “So the good news is that we have been preparing to bring more faculty on board.”
However, hiring trained nursing faculty has still been an issue and the problem is fueled by the fact that nursing faculty make considerably less than a practicing nurse. Faculty members make about $70,000 per year, while a nurse who works in practice can earn from $90,000-$125,000 annually.
Further, nurses are now required in most instances to have a four-year degree. This obviously takes longer, which changes the path many nurses take and increases the need even further for trained nursing faculty. Luckily it’s easy to find an excellent nursing program in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Dallas, and most major cities in the United States.
Because there is such a high demand for nurses, there is a huge opportunity for individuals to obtain nursing degrees and work in nursing roles. There are many roles in nursing that provide a great career path if you can gain entrance into a nursing school.
However, nursing can be a very demanding career path that requires constant training, strong technical skills and long hours. Sometimes, belligerent or mean patients can cause nurses to leave the profession after a period of time. Nurses tend to enter the workforce when the economy is at a low and leave when the economy has recovered, which is called a countercyclical trend. This creates a cycle that stimulates nursing shortages.
Solutions to the Shortage
So what are the solutions to this impending nursing shortage problem? The shortages are underpinned by several issues, including differences in the general work environment, the image of nursing, retention of nurses, recruitment of new nurses and policy decisions that lead to attrition. However, there are several trends that should be considered when creating solutions:
- Rise of the superclass of employees who carry more workload responsibilities than others
- Professional versus personal role and allowing employees to balance both these roles
- Giving employees time off instead of financial compensation
- Collaborative management or flattening hierarchies to create a more egalitarian structure at work
- Integration of home and work, offering services such as day care and dry cleaning to reduce the level of employee stress
- Generation X entrepreneurs choosing freelance or traveling work versus working for the bureaucracy
Each of these trends can be considered when creating and instituting solutions to deal with nursing workforce shortages.
Health care is a complex business. The human aspect of the business produces the need for nursing staff to provide services and care for patients. As retirees flood the marketplace, the demand for nurses will continue to increase. Nursing schools and health care organizations must continue to develop solutions to this shortage so that our nation’s health care infrastructure can continue to provide needed access to health resources.