The current and future nursing shortage:

If you or a loved one has been in a patient in a hospital recently you may have noticed a growing trend. The nurses are growing older, more of them work part time, they are overworked and underpaid and many are looking to leave the field for greener pastures. And there aren’t many of them! There is an acute and growing nursing shortage. Those nurses who plan to remain in the nursing field will be retiring in great numbers over the next decade. One study found that half the current US nursing work force will be retired by the year 2020. Of those left in the year 2010, half will be age 50 or older.

If you or a loved one have been deciding on a college major directly after high school, it is likely that it is NOT nursing. The enrollment rate for BSN programs in the US has dropped for the 6th year in a row. There are many other, more lucrative career choices available for men and women today. The average age of a new nurse graduate is 31 and the ratio of 40-year-old nurses to 20-year-old nurses is 4:1. There are fewer Generation Xers to the Baby Boomers anyway.

Nor is this problem limited to the US. Canada, Poland, Chile all have similar problems. BlueDragon says the same problem exists in the UK too.

While nurses decrease in numbers the aging baby boomer population creates a need for more nurses. Older and sicker patients need higher levels of care. Sadly, older and sicker nurses are delivering it.

Nurses are needed everywhere but especially in specialty areas and almost all hospital patients are speciality patients today. We don’t admit the easy cases anymore. Attempts to supplement nurses with unlicensed assistants have failed due to the increasingly complex medical needs of the older and sicker population. Besides, the ancillary personnel are also in short supply.

One strategy to solve the US nursing shortage is the Nurse Reinvestment Act. “The Nurse Reinvestment Act (H.R. 3487) was passed by unanimous consent first in the Senate, and then House of Representatives on July 22, 2002. On August 1, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the bill into law creating P.L. 107-205.” This law establishes nursing scholarship nurse retention and patient safety grants, geriatric training grants for nurses, faculty loan cancellations, career ladder grants and public service announcements to promote the nursing profession.

In my state of Maryland the vacancy rate for hospital nurses is 15.6%

July 2000, issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)

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