The Nursing Shortage: Statistics and Solutions

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The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of Registered Nurses (RNs) is expected to grow 23 percent between 2006 and 2016 with 587,000 new jobs. These new jobs will be driven in part by advances in patient care, an increased emphasis on preventive care and an aging population. However, nursing shortage statistics show that there will not be enough RNs to fill these positions.

Possible Explanations for the Nursing Shortage

A number of factors have contributed to the rising number of vacant nursing positions. The main reasons seem to revolve around the:
  • aging population: Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, increasing the demand for health care services and the number of nurses needed to fulfill them.
  • average age of nurses: The average age of a nurse is 42.5, meaning many are retiring or will be retiring in the near future.
  • changes in opportunities for women: Ninety percent of nurses are women. While, in the past, women often chose nursing because their career opportunities were limited, today, women have an endless variety of jobs from which to choose. By the 1980s, women pursing nursing careers decreased dramatically.
  • enrollment in nursing schools: Enrollment in nursing schools has also declined in recent years.
  • high RN turnover rate: With limited nurses forced to take on additional patients and responsibilities, the turnover rate for RNs is high. Long hours and unpredictable schedules also contribute to the high turnover rate.
  • population growth: As the population grows, so does the need for health care services.
  • restrictions on work visas: Restrictions on work visas limit health care facilities from hiring foreign nurses to fill vacant positions.
  • understaffed nursing schools: Many nursing schools are forced to turn away qualified applicants because of a limited number of faculty members. In addition, the average age of nursing teachers is 62.5, meaning that many current nursing teachers are nearing retirement.

Nursing Shortage Solutions

Health care experts have proposed a number of different solutions to the nursing shortage. However, not just one solution will be enough to fix the problem; a solution will most likely require changes across the board.
Some of the solutions that have been proposed are:
  • improving education: Nursing schools need to reassess the types of programs and degrees they offer to attract and retain more students.
  • increasing job security: As the number of available nursing jobs increases, more people may decide to pursue a nursing degree.
  • reverse bidding: Reverse bidding allows nurses to fill open shifts through a Web-based system. The RN is matched with a vacancy based on his or her qualifications.
  • staffing by a free agency: Some health care facilities use free agents to fill vacant shifts. Free agency nurses do not have a set schedule. They bid on shifts that were not filled by a health care facilities regular staff. A free agent nurse bids on an hourly rate or a shift bonus.
  • increasing wages: Higher wages will motivate more people to enter the nursing field.