Nurses are a vital and significant part of the healthcare system and play a key role as they work directly with the patients and spend more time with them as they take exceptional care of them. Today, nurses enjoy more respect and autonomy due to their collaborative relationship with healthcare professionals and the medical community. Skilled nurses carry a wealth of experience and health information that proves to be very useful for the medical community.

Employment opportunities are projected to grow at a much faster rate for nurses as compared to other professions. According to the World Health Statistics report, about 4 million nurses work in the United States as of now. American Nurses Association (ANA) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that about 300,000 additional nurses will be needed by 2030.

The hospitals and staff were unable to keep up with the inflow of COVID patients and were losing their health care staff, including doctors and nurses, due to burnout. Although the recent COVID-19 has exposed the widespread staff shortages of nurses in the United States, the nursing shortage had already begun in 2012.

Nursing shortage in the U.S. varies based on the region and various states of the country. Some regions have greater shortages based on the specialty of nursing, such as critical care nurses needed for labor and delivery and other specialties.

 Certain states in the U.S. face the maximum shortage of nurses, and these include California, New Jersey, Texas, South Dakota, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alaska. These states in the southern and western regions of the country face a much more significant shortage of nurses. California state will need about 44,500 new nurses in the coming decade.

So why is there a nursing shortage, and what could be the reasons behind it? Read on to learn more.

Why is there a nursing shortage?

The shortage of nurses is a complex problem, and it is the combination of different factors in different parts of the country that create the nurse shortage. It is essential to know and understand these reasons so as to come up with a viable solution.

Given below are the main reasons behind the growing nursing shortage in the U.S.

  • The changing demographics
    Changing demographics and the larger insured population constitute a significant reason behind the increased need for healthcare. The American population is aging fast while the baby boom generation will reach retirement age, thus the demand for more health services. Currently, there is a 73% percent rise in Americans aged 65 or older, and the older population often lives with several comorbidities that need regular care and treatment.

  • The aging nursing workforce
    Like any other profession and population, the nursing workforce is aging. At present, about one million registered nurses who are above 50 years of age are working in the health care system in the U.S. It means that about one-third of the nursing workforce has already aged and is ready for retirement in the next few years. Moreover, there is a limit to the number of nurses that the nursing schools across the country can generate.

  • The stressful and demanding job
    Nurses often complain of the stressful conditions they work in, and the recent pandemic has only highlighted how demanding a nursing job can be. Burnout has become common among nurses in American hospitals due to the presence of a series of work-related stressors. Ineffective management, lack of support, longer shifts, work overload, and sleep deprivation can leave the nurses feeling overwhelmed due to the workload

  • The imbalance in career and family
    Only one in ten nurses is a male, and the numbers have remained fairly stative over the years. Due to the gender discrepancy, the perception is that the nursing profession is still considered feminine. Thus, as nurses are still majority female, they have to go through the childbearing years and take care of their families. Many find it difficult to meaning the work-family balance and often go for long leaves or quit the profession altogether.

  • The violence in the healthcare
     Another factor behind the nursing shortage is the presence of violence in the already stressful environment. There is always a threat of emotional or physical abuse emotionally due to the risks of working with a specific patient population in the emergency department and psychiatric wards. Thus, the healthcare professional suffers both physically and emotionally as they are the most vulnerable to aggression in the workplace.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities rely on the services of skilled and experienced nurses. A shortage of nurses would mean compromising with the quality of care provided.

The impact of a nursing shortage

Understaffed nursing units are a clear symptom of the nursing shortage and raise the risk of burnout among nurses and their turnovers. Nurse shortage would mean longer wait times for the patients and the risk of providing low-quality care. When healthcare facilities don’t have the required staff, it is likely to lead to lower patient satisfaction and poor health outcomes. Without the proper nursing staff, complications are likely to increase for patients needing emergency care. The increase in wait time can impact the quality of care for patients.

Nursing shortage can lead to stress and burnout among the workforce and increase the pressure on nurses. Due to the mental and physical toll, there are higher chances of making medication errors, and fatalities can develop during patient care.  When nurses are forced to work longer hours, and under strenuous conditions, they are likely to feel extremely tired and may lose their passion for their profession. Thus, without an appropriate number of nurses on staff, patient safety and health are compromised.

In addition, the nursing shortage is also affecting the hospitals financially. To keep up with the growing demands of patient care and nurse shortage, many healthcare organizations pay better benefits packages and sign-on bonuses. Nurse Staffing Study shows that hospitals paid $100-$150 an hour to nurses during COVID-19 to cope with the extremely high demand.

The country needs to take the issue seriously and work on it to deal with the challenges and remove the nursing shortage.

How to deal with the nursing shortage?

As several factors work behind the nursing shortage, it is essential to know the reason behind it and devise multiple solutions to address the complicated issues.   Here are some recommendations that can be considered to curb the nursing shortage in the U.S. and improve health care services.

  • Make nursing education cheaper and flexible
    Another step the federal and state movements can take is to the nursing education easily accessible and affordable. Online nursing programs with flexible schedules and affordable costs would certainly encourage more students to enroll in nursing education. In addition, the cost of licensure should be lowered to motivate the trained nurses to join the workforce faster.

  • Promote nursing as a career
    State officials and administrators should work together to promote nursing as a great career choice among high school students. It is essential to talk about the competitive salaries, good working enticement, and a rewarding career path for nurses. One should remind the prospective future nurses about the noble profession as well as about the paid vacation, paid sick time, health and life insurance, and retirement benefits.

  • More educational opportunities to train nurses
    As the country needs more nurses, it needs to have more nursing colleges and programs to increase the enrollment and motivate both men and women to join the nursing programs. Just opening new colleges won’t help as the students will need encouragement and sight support to complete their bachelor’s degree in nursing and become qualified nurses.

  • Enhance support for nurses
    It is important to support the nurses by providing them with the opportunities to develop their careers and work as stronger leaders in the healthcare industry. A supportive workplace where nurses feel appreciated and heard will keep them engaged and motivated. When they achieve a healthy work-life balance, it is unlikely that they would want to leave their job and are likely to do their best to take care of patients. Mentoring and education plus benefits packages can certainly help attract and retain new nurses.

In order to nurture a hopeful future in nursing in the United States and around the world, it is essential to act now and take the necessary steps. Government, hospitals, and healthcare institutions must wake up to the realities around and invest in nursing schools and motivate people to work as nurses. The healthcare industry needs to appreciate and develop the role of nurses by providing them with a positive working environment at every level of nursing. Whether licensed practical nurses or nursing assistants or bachelor’s-prepared nurses, they must feel special and honored to be a nurse and look at the nursing profession as a privilege to serve humanity.

However, it will take time and effort to bridge the gap and motivate people to join that culture of caring and encourage more nurses in the healthcare system. The bottom line is to improve nurse satisfaction and guide them on how they can serve a more significant level and cause by becoming a nurse.

Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy at Pexels

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