For those in the prime of their health, the current nursing shortage in the United States might seem like an over-analyzed waste of time and money. To many, it simply seems like the latest buzz on the lips of government representatives, city leaders, and educational institutions. However, for those who work in healthcare or rely on nurses to get through an illness, the nursing shortage is real and incredibly frightening.
Baby Boomers and Healthcare
One of the primary difficulties in the health care field is the aging Baby Boomer population. Most Baby Boomers are currently in their fifties, although many are also reaching into their sixties. Since they comprise roughly a quarter of the U.S. population, this is a fairly sizable chunk of people approaching an increased need for health care.
Overall, Baby Boomers present a two-fold problem: a) as they age, they will become more in need of hospital and nursing home services; and b) they currently make up the largest percentage of nursing staff. As they continue to reach retirement age, not only will they be requiring more time from nurses in general, but they will cease to be nurses themselves. This is a double impact as far as the health care industry goes.
Seventy-two percent of hospitals currently claim not to have adequate nursing staff, which is in and of itself startling. However, in addition, the ratio of caregivers to those in need of health services is expected to decrease by 40 percent between 2010 and 2030. This means that the shortage of trained staff will rise between 2 and 6 percent each year, possibly reaching a deficit of more than a million Registered Nurses (RNs) by 2025.
Right now the average age of a nurse is 47 years old, and there aren’t enough young nurses replacing those reaching retirement. Enrollment in nursing universities and schools is not sufficient to replace those currently in the work force. It is estimated that roughly 100,000 nurses graduate from school and enter the workforce each year; unfortunately, this number needs to increase by 30 percent in order to even begin addressing the nation’s health care needs.
For those who aren’t frightened by these outstanding numbers, there is the additional factor of the nurses themselves. Already loaded with the important task of caring for the sick in addition to following oftentimes strict hospital administration regulations, nursing is considered one of the most stressful occupations there is. Most nurses are overworked as a general rule; to add staffing shortages on top of that only makes their jobs harder. Whether due to stress or health problems related to the difficult work, many nurses are forced to leave the profession early.
There is also the patient care factor to consider, since overworked and understaffed nurses means a lower quality of care overall. Studies have shown that when there are more nurses employed in a hospital, there are lower death rates, shorter stays, and a much higher patient satisfaction overall.
The Future of Nursing
The good news is, not everything is as bleak as it sounds. Hospital administrators and government leaders are well aware of the crisis situation and are doing everything they can to make sure that the reality does not coincide with the current statistics.
As just one example, $1.4 million dollars was raised for the sole purpose of providing scholarships to prospective RNs in Tennessee in 2007. Many other states have launched advertising campaigns and studies directed at finding how to best entice young recruits into the field. Nursing education facilities are beginning to receive private funding from a number of hospitals and medical societies in order to boost their percentage of teachers and increase the capacities of their nursing programs, and the U.S. Department of Labor awarded over $12 million worth of grants in 2005 to boost nursing education. Many hospitals have also started subsidizing nurse faculty salaries and offer education reimbursement with a given contract of work.
Perhaps the most innovative idea is one being practiced in some hospitals in highly diverse states like Florida and New York. They have started pulling from an international pool of nursing candidates, offering monetary incentives, certification courses, and English education for trained and prospective nurses who move to the United States. Puerto Rican nurses are offered further incentives in that they aren’t required to get any additional education or certification if they qualify for their RN license in their home country.
Healthcare for Tomorrow
Overall, there simply needs to be a substantial increase in the number of nurses in order to create a viable ratio of caregivers to patients for the future. Current nurses are aging and succumbing to health problems themselves due to the physically and mentally demanding work of their day to day life. Overworked, underpaid, and often forgotten in the bustle and hardships of the medical field, nurses remain some of the most caring professionals in the world. Hopefully, it is this caring persona that will draw young recruits and keep the profession going strong.