We live in a country with the third highest population in the world. Over 320 million people live here, and vital to the health and wellbeing of each one of us are the 3.9 million registered nurses who keep our hospitals, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices running.
But what does the next five years hold for the profession, and how will the industry deal with an aging population and workforce?
Nursing Shortage in the United States
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has projected that the U.S. can anticipate a shortage of nurses due to several factors including an aging nursing population, a shortage of nursing students and a higher demand for healthcare services. Each of these factors heavily influence the shortage that the U.S. is facing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that registered nurse jobs will continue to be in high demand at a rate that is higher than average for other occupations.
The Impact of an Aging Workforce
In a 2018 survey conducted by the HRSA, the age of nurses averaged at 50 years old. With such a high percentage of nurses falling within that age group and with their retirement nearing, the demand for nurses is anticipated to substantially increase as a result. In addition to a high volume of nurses leaving the workforce, this presents the challenge to rely on established nurses to serve as mentors and teachers to the upcoming generation of nurses. We will discuss the impact of schooling and education below.
A Struggling Education System
One of the greatest challenges contributing towards the nursing shortage is the lack of enrollment in nursing programs, resulting in an ability to meet the projected demand for nursing services. While a lack of enrollment is certainly a main factor to the lack of new nurses, it’s not the sole contributor. The AACN reported that U.S. nursing schools rejected over 80,000 qualified applicants due to budget constraints and insufficient resources. As mentioned, experienced nurses are essential to bringing our next generation of nurses up to speed. The knowledge that they have gained for the field is incomparable and essential to ensuring a successful transition to the next generation of nurses.
Greater Demand for Healthcare Services
Along with an aging population comes a greater demand for healthcare services both in hospitals and specialized areas. Also, with advancements in medicine and technology, the American population is living longer resulting in a greater need for medical attention later into their lives. With this need for care comes the need for nurses to provide that care. With inadequate numbers of nurses, healthcare practices can anticipate feeling the strain of this shortage resulting in the inability to meet the needs of an increased number of patients. This can be felt not only in a hospital setting but others as well such as geriatric care specialties.
Solutions to the Nursing Shortage
Creative solutions to the nursing shortage are certainly needed to intrigue those interested in a nursing career as well as motivating current/new nurses. In addition to develop interest in the nursing career, healthcare providers also need to consider creative ways to meet current demands. One partial solution to the impending crisis could be to increase the number of internationally educated nurses we allow into the country. America has a long history of welcoming nurses from Canada, Mexico, and many other countries from all over the world. Internationally educated nurses are not only required to apply for visas, but to take the NCLEX examination, which determines if they are prepared for entry level nursing in the US. To begin understanding how many new foreign nurses start work in the country each year, we analyzed examination statistics from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing which gives us a picture of how many foreign educated nurses are applying to work here, and how many are successful in their application.
Collaborative efforts between healthcare organizations, government, nursing associations and nursing schools to provide financial aid options to students in order to expand enrollment, would also contribute towards an overall solution. Providing an affordable solution to students interested in the nursing field would certainly serve as a way to grow interest in enrollment. In addition to providing accessible education to students, educators are also facing the need for fair salaries. Satisfying these needs would certainly have the ability to positively impact the future of the nursing field.
Whatever the solution is, it’s clear there needs to be drastic changes to meet the demands of our country. Whether that means increasing federal funding to colleges so they can take on more students, a system more reliant on travel nurses who can move to meet demand in different areas at different times, or relaxing immigration requirements, something needs to happen soon if we want to avoid the potential 690,000 nurse shortage nightmare just around the corner
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