In the United States, nursing shortages are cropping up all over the country. Some of this is because of the needs of Obamacare and an increased patient load. Some areas of the country and the world at large just have natural barriers in population size or in their demographics that lead to nursing shortages.
By 2022, it is estimated that there will be a need for 525,000 nurses in the United States alone.
It’s the perfect storm for the medical community. Not only is there an increase in people who are seeking treatment because they have comprehensive insurance for the first time, but there are also Baby Boomers who are starting to age and need more care on a regular basis. This is overwhelming the current system of healthcare that is in place.
- U.S. nursing schools turned away 79,659 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2012 due to insufficient resources, including faculty and classroom space.
- From 2010 to 2011, want ads for registered nurses increased by over 40%.
- Nearly 67% of nursing schools say that they can’t accept all qualified candidates because they don’t have instructors to teach them.
- 55% of the current RN workforce is 50 years of age or above.
- The number of registered nurses who are expected to reach retirement age within the next 15 years: 1 million.
- The average age of the registered nurse population has been increasing since 2004.
- More than 75% of RNs believe the nursing shortage presents a major problem for the quality of their work life.
- 93% of nurses who leave the profession account for nursing shortages as one of the major contributing factors.
Nursing shortages affect more than just the patients that need medical care. They also affect the quality of life of a nurses household. When nurses are forced to work double rotations or flexible hours to cover shifts because there aren’t enough registered nurses to go around, families are impacted in negative ways. The problem, however, doesn’t seem to be a question of need. Tens of thousands of potential nurses are turned away every year simply because they cannot be taught. If we can come together and start fixing the core need for instructors, then it may be possible to eliminate the nursing shortage problem in as few as four years.
How Does Nurse Staffing Affect Patient Care?
- A May 2013 study determined that higher patient loads for nurses resulted in higher hospital readmission rates.
- An August 2012 article in the American Journal of Infection Control noted that nurse burnout from high patient ratios was a contributing factor to increases seen in UTI and surgical site infections.
- Increasing a nurse’s patient load by just one patient is associated with higher rates of infection for all of that nurse’s patients.
- A 2011 study found that higher nurse staffing levels were associated with fewer deaths, lower failure-to-rescue incidents, lower rates of infection, and shorter hospital stays.
- Mortality risks for patients was about 6% higher on units that were understaffed as compared with fully staffed units.
- There were 4.9 fewer deaths per 1,000 patients on intensive care units staffed with a higher percentage of nurses with bachelor’s degrees.
- 93% of nurses report not having enough time to appropriately maintain patient safety while they are on the job.
This isn’t just a healthcare problem. By not providing enough educational opportunities for those who want to become nurses, we are impacting the long-term care that all of us will receive in the future. The statistics clearly show that having more nurses has a direct impact on infection and mortality rates in a positive way. Even emergency room care is improved when there are enough nurses to fully staff the unit. Improving patient access to health insurance might be a good first step to improving care, but we cannot ignore the need for nurses to be available so that appropriate care can be given. Otherwise we are just giving everyone a lower standard of care because we have no other option.
Nurses Fact High Turnover Rates
- The typical nursing employer will see an employee turnover rate of 14% annually amongst their registered nurses.
- In a 2007 survey, 37% of the registered nurses that had just found employment with a new care facility were ready to change jobs.
- The average RN cost-per-hire was $2,821… in 2005 when turnover and vacancy rates were lower.
- The average nursing shortage in every healthcare facility in the United States: 16.1%
- The estimated number of additional nurses that need to be graduated every year, at minimum to slow the tide of the turnover and vacancy rates: 30,000.
- More than 19,400 RN vacancies exist in long-term care settings.
- The U.S. nursing shortage is projected to grow to 260,000 registered nurses by 2025.
People are not just going to work for free. Nurses have a passion for helping people, but that passion can only drive them so far. When their personal lives suffer and their families never get to see them, a registered nurse faces a difficult decision. Do they continue in a career that they love? Or do they find other options that can help them better balance family time and career responsibilities? As the statistics on nursing shortages show, about 14% of registered nurses are deciding on the latter option instead of continuing their career. When this is combined with the amount of nurses that are expected to retire, the amount of open positions in this field will be quite dramatic – shortages that haven’t been seen since the 1960s.
Can Anything Be Done To Prevent This Problem?
- The Minnesota VA has committed $5.3 million to the University of Minnesota to support additional faculty, expand nursing facilities, and increase inter-professional engagement.
- In January 2014, the University of Wisconsin announced a $3.2 million Nurses for Wisconsin initiative to provide fellowships and loan forgiveness for future nurse faculty who agree to teach in the state after graduation.
- 97% of surveyed hospitals in 2006 were using educational strategies to address the shortage of nurses.
- In June 2005, the US Department of Labor awarded $3 million to help with the nursing shortages through the High Growth Job Training Initiative.
- In 2013, more than 16,000 vacant seats were still identified as needing to be filled in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs.
It is going to take money to solve this problem. There is no getting around the fact that nursing programs need to be better funded. There is also no getting around the fact that nursing, though it is a job with a high pay potential, isn’t necessarily a job that can lift a household out of poverty by itself. If we can create a combination of events that lift the wages of nurses while providing more educational opportunities for those who want to become nurses, we might just be able to stem the tide of the nursing shortage statistics that have been being seen over the last decade or so. One thing remains clear: the status quo is not good enough any more.
This Isn’t Just a U.S. Problem
- In 2010, a World Health Organization report revealed that India needed 2.4 million more nurses.
- Shortages in nurses in sub-Saharan Africa have led to profoundly negative effects on health care.
- The number of additional nurses that Canada expects to need by 2022 in order to combat shortages: 60,000.
- The pay loss for many RNs who would choose to become educational faculty would be as much as $20,000–$30,000 a year.
- English-speaking Caribbean nations currently have 1.25 nurses for every 1000 people, which is 10 times fewer than most industrialized large nations.
- Jamaica sees 8% of its generalist nurses and 20% of its specialist nurses leave for more developed countries each year.
- In Malawi, there are only 17 nurses for every 100 000 people.
- The faculty-student ratio in developing countries for nursing students is reported to be as high as 1:45 compared with a 1:12 ratio in developed countries.
The ability to promote men into the nursing field could help to change things around as well. Nursing is stereotypically considered a woman’s profession and that has contributed to some of the statistics. With men enrolling at higher rates than ever before, there is a good chance that if there are enough open educational positions, the nursing shortages could begin to fade. In India, some universities have reserved up to 20% of nursing placement opportunities for male students. In order to get the students trained, however, there needs to be faculty that is well-trained too. Until we can pay nursing teachers the same as nursing providers, we may never get enough good people to teach the next generation.