The Nursing Shortage
The nursing shortage is of such huge consequence that it merits more than mere mention. The United States is entrenched in a nursing shortage that will only intensify as baby boomers age and healthcare needs grow. In 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the need for one million new and replacement nurses by 2016, with an estimated 587,000 new nursing positions created through 2016, making nursing the nation's top profession in terms of projected job growth. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) estimates that the nation's nursing shortage will grow to more than one million nurses by the year 2020.
According to a research report, titled The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends and Implications and written by Peter Buerhaus, PhD, of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Douglas Staiger, PhD, from Dartmouth University, and David Auerbach, PhD, of the Congressional Budget Office, the demand for RNs is expected to grow at 2% to 3% per year, as it has done for the past four decades, while the supply of RNs is expected to grow very little as large numbers of nurses begin to retire. These researchers further noted that the current shortage began in 1998, making it the longest lasting nursing shortage in the past 50 years. The inadequate number of nurses in hospitals has disastrous consequences, as it is associated with reductions in patient capacity, delays in the timeliness of patient care, longer length of hospital stays by patients, interruptions in the healthcare delivery processes, and increased risk of adverse patient outcomes including death.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) list several factors that led to the shortage. The first is that enrollment in nursing programs has not grown fast enough to meet the demands. HRSA notes that the United States must graduate approximately 90% more nurses from its nursing programs to meet the estimated growth in demand for RN services. Reasons for the lackluster growth include the increased opportunity for women in the workforce today and a decline in public perception of the attractiveness of nursing as a profession. A second factor is workforce participation. The active supply of RNs is defined as the number of licensed RNs who provide nursing care or who are actively seeking employment in nursing. This supply excludes licensed RNs who are retired, who have temporarily left nursing, and who are working in non-nursing positions. The shortage creates more shortage because some nurses leave their jobs because of the stress from insufficient staffing.
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