The USA has always experienced a series of both shortages and surpluses of nurses. But the current shortage is unlike the ones experienced before. Stats show that the US population will increase by 18% over two decades in the 21st century. Also, the population of people above 65 years will increase by three times. Such an increase in the number of the elderly means an increase in demand for registered nurses (RNs) in healthcare and senior care facilities.
Furthermore, it highlights the importance of filling positions of nurses who have already reached the retirement age. An infographic by the Norwich University shows that one-third of the current registered nurses will retire by 2020 to 2025. As it stands, the shortfall of full-time-equivalent (FTE) RNs will reach 800,000 by 2020.
The truth about the nursing shortage in the US
Several factors are contributing to the nursing shortage in the US. Some of these include:
- Many registered nurses are nearing the retirement age
The 2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey showed that 50.9% of registered nurses are 50 years or older.
- Enrolment in nursing school is slow
Enrolment of individuals to nursing schools is not growing as fast as it should so that it can meet the projected demands for registered nurses. A report by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses showed that the enrolment to nursing schools increased by 3.7%. While that sounds positive, the number is not enough to meet the shortage that healthcare facilities are witnessing now and will witness by 2025.
- The population of retiring people is growing
A 2010 report by the US Census Bureau showed that in 2010, 60% of the US population was between 20 and 64 years. As the baby boomers age by 2030, the proportions in the working ages will drop to 55%. Furthermore, the population of retired individuals will grow by 75%. That means healthcare and senior care facilities will have the challenges of finding timely labor solutions to the nursing shortage.
Other reasons include the technology effect whereby hospitals are introducing new technologies to assess, treat, and discharge patients. As a result, the healthcare facilities need fewer nurses and others are looking for caregivers versed with technology.
Effects of the nursing shortage
Because of the shortage, the current registered nurses have to work for long hours. Many of them work under stressful conditions that result in injury and fatigue. When nurses work in such environments, they are more likely to make medical errors. In some cases, patient care suffers. That results in complications like congestion in emergency rooms, medication errors, and high death rates.
Many institutions have offered a range of solutions to the nursing shortage in the USA. Some of these include:
- Increasing funding for nursing education
- Devoting resources toward increasing RN wages
- Hiring foreign nurses and offering permanent visas to avoid a foreign shortage of nurses
Also, there is a need to have campaigns that will improve the image of the nursing profession.
Despite being one of the largest healthcare professions, there is a shortage of nurses in the US. Thus, there is a need to address the shortfall because the demand for healthcare services will increase in the next five years due to an aging population. Addressing the shortage will ensure better patient care and lower mortality rates.