The United States is experiencing a shortage of qualified nurses. Perhaps the most unsettling result of the nursing shortage is that patient care may be adversely affected. Another point of concern is that the shortage is occurring just as the massive Baby Boomer generation is aging into their senior years, when they will likely require more healthcare. Compounding the problem, a large number of Baby Boomer nurses are nearing retirement age.
The Nursing Shortage: Current and Projected Figures
According to data published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the shortage of qualified registered nurses (RNs) will remain into the foreseeable future:
- Due to growing demand, the healthcare job market is rapidly expanding. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that healthcare accounted for one out of every five new jobs created in 2012.
- The BLS reported that registered nurse (RN) is a fast-growing occupation with an increase of 16% projected through 2024.
- The nursing shortage is projected to continue nationwide, especially in the South and West, according to a report in the American Journal of Medical Quality.
- Health Affairs reported that the nursing shortage will grow to 260,000 RNs by 2025 – twice as large as shortages that have occurred since the mid-1960s.
Factors Leading to Nursing Shortage
Along with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, a number of other factors have contributed to the looming shortage:
- Opportunities expanded - Nursing was traditionally a female occupation. Because of limitations placed on women, it was one of the few professional fields open to them. Now, women are free to pursue whatever career they choose, and fewer are choosing nursing.
- Not enough student nurses - Nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet demand.
- A shortage of nursing educators - Applicants are being turned away from nursing schools because of a lack of qualified educators.
- The recession - Many nurses who would have retired during the recession stayed on the job. Others who worked part-time switched to full-time status.
States and Specialties Facing Nursing Shortages
In as many as 30 states, healthcare organizations are finding it difficult to fill nursing positions. For example, the American Journal of Medical Quality reported that by 2030, states such as Kansas, Missouri and Iowa will lack sufficient numbers of RNs (shortages of 3,827; 1,757; and 1,243 respectively). In addition:
- According to the Michigan Health Council, if the number of registered nurse graduates remains constant, Michigan’s nursing shortage will reach 5,296 by 2018
- The New Jersey Nursing Initiative reported that their state would see a shortfall of at least 40,000 nurses by 2020
- The Florida Center for Nursing predicted that Florida would be short 50,000 RN's by 2025
One area of specialty that is particularly under-served is neonatal intensive care nursing. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that NICUs were understaffed for 32% of their patients. The study of 560 NICUs found that while the average number of beds was 30, the average number of nurses per shift was 12, even though standards would have required 15.
Turning the Tide
Fortunately, nursing schools, healthcare organizations and nursing associations are taking steps to increase the number of qualified nurses available to care for patients.
- Improving retention - Nursing can be a stressful job at times, but a number of organizations across the country are working to boost the number of magnet-like hospital programs, where improved communication, increased staffing levels and more autonomy can help give nurses better job satisfaction and in turn, increase the rate of retention while decreasing nurse stress levels.
- Encouraging educators - Many states are focusing on scholarships, grants and awareness programs aimed at increasing the number of nurse educators. By encouraging current RNs to return to school for advanced degrees, they hope to reduce the educator shortage and enroll more applicants in nursing schools.
- Attracting new nurses - Creating awareness also extends to children and men. Campaigns aimed at middle and high school students help them learn about the positive aspects of a nursing career. At the same time, reaching out to men may help increase the number of nursing school applicants.
What do Registered Nurses Earn?
According to the latest data published by the BLS, the median annual salary for registered nurses was $66,640. The top 10% of earners made approximately $98,880, while the lowest 10% earned $45,880. Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research, as salary potential may vary depending on location, experience, education and other factors.
How Long Will a BSN Degree Completion Program Take to Complete?
Completing your BSN can not only help you advance your career possibilities, but it can also help ease the projected shortage of qualified nurses. Enrolling in an online RN-to-BSN program is one convenient way to gain the valuable knowledge and hands-on skills today’s professional nurses need. Courses can be taken on your time schedule while you continue working and advancing in your nursing career.
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Registered Nurses,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm)