Why the Nursing Shortage Exists
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
Anyone who’s been treated at a hospital knows how important nurses are, and what a large role they play in tending a patient’s needs. A shortage began in 1998 and eased, ironically, as unemployment rose during the recession. Nurses found themselves in need of income, and those who worked part time, or not at all, returned to full-time work. Shortage worries haven’t been assuaged; the median age of a nurse is 46 years, and the largest group of nurses are in their fifties.
In 2025, the nursing shortage in the United States is projected to grow to 260,000. The Affordable Care Act increases the insured population by 32 million people. According to the 2012 US Census, citizens aged 45 and older compose 39.4% of the overall population. The Boomers are getting old, and so are the nurses!
Reasons for the nurse shortage begin at the school level. Nurses will soon retire in droves; nursing professors are doing the same thing. In the last year, more than 76,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing school, largely because those schools did not have enough professors to keep them. The “pipeline,” if you will, of nurses must remain strong, but we’re already having trouble doing that. Faculty members in nursing schools usually need a PhD – less than one percent of all nurses have their doctorate. Pay makes a difference, too. Professors are paid only half of what practicing nurses earn.
Work conditions for nurses in hospitals are harsh, stressful, and exhausting. Hospitals are suffering in the recession, too, and as budgets are cut, the number of nurses on the floor shrinks. Caring for more patients than they can handle leads to job dissatisfaction as nurses become emotionally strained. Imagine constant paranoia that you’ve missed something critical because you were taking care of too many patients. High patient-to-nurse ratios lead to increased rates of infections and lowers overall patient care quality.
Next week, I’ll discuss what is being done to combat nursing shortages, and what can be done to raise the retention rates of existing nurses.