How Serious is the US Nursing Shortage?

The nursing shortage in the United States has worsened in recent years. Studies are being conducted to not only determine the causes, but also to find effective nursing shortage solutions. Staffing shortages in healthcare are worse in certain regions, more so than others. The main concern about a reduced nursing workforce is that patient care will be impacted. Multiple research studies have confirmed a direct correlation between nursing shortages and higher mortality rates in hospital settings.

Nursing Shortage Causes

A key cause of nursing causes has been the aging out of nurses from the baby boomer generation. As baby boomers enter retirement, many nursing positions have opened up around the country. It is projected by the year 2029 the last of the baby boomer generation will be eligible for retirement. Besides direct care nurses, the shortage will extend to nurse educators. With less nursing teachers, there will be fewer available faculty to train prospective nurses.

A high nursing turnover rate has also been attributed to the nursing shortage. Nurses tend to burnout from the high demands of the job and long scheduled shifts. The average turnover rate for registered nurses was more than 17% as of 2018. Specialties of the nurses has also been shown to impact the turnover rate. Nurses who work in behavioral health, telemetry, and emergency medicine have an average turnover rate in excess of 19% in 2018. Nurses working in burn centers, women’s health facilities, pediatrics, and surgery centers have the lowest specialty turnover rate. With fewer nurses, job satisfaction is expected to get even worse as nurses become overworked and stressed by the lack of adequate staffing.

Location is another factor when evaluating the nursing shortage in the United States. Currently, the following states have the greatest number of vacant nursing positions: California, Texas, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Alaska. The disparities between supply and demand for nurses in these states are projected to continue to grow farther apart through the year 2030.

The need for more nurses is another reason for the national nursing shortage. As the baby boomer generation grows older, an increased number of nurses are needed to care for elderly patients. The American Nurses Foundation estimates there will be a need for at least 11% more nurses by the year 2022.

Lastly, violence has been linked to fewer healthcare workers. In medical settings, healthcare professionals are more likely to be treated aggressively. Nurses may be the targets of verbal or physical abused by patients. According to the World Health Organization, 8% to 38% of all healthcare workers around the world have suffered some form of violence over the course of their careers.

Nursing Shortage Solutions

Nursing schools, medical organizations, state agencies, and non-profits have all made strides toward developing nursing shortage solutions. In Wisconsin, the state has offered loan forgiveness and grants to attract more nursing students to regional colleges. National universities are changing their educational programs to help nurses earn higher degrees while still working. The degree tracks allow registered nurses to get their BSNs and MSNs by attending online courses and earning clinical hours within their geographic locations.

Healthcare agencies can also assist with addressing the nursing shortage. Employers can start employee initiatives to alleviate common job stressors. For instance, hiring more medical assistants can help reduce a nurse’s workload. Adding new technology that makes a nurse’s job easier could also reduce on-the-job stress. More nurse incentives are recommended too. For instance, employers can provide paid training sessions, school loan reimbursement, and promoting internally.

The good news for prospective nurses is finding a job isn’t challenging. Moreover, nursing students may even get assistance paying for their education.


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