There’s good news for Americans, we’re living longer. That’s even better news for nurses, as it means there will be an increase in demand for nurses in the coming years. In fact by 2022, the profession is expected to grow a whopping 19% while other top occupation growth is expected to reach 11%. Two to three million additional patients are estimated to enter Medicare each year as a result of aging baby boomers, and the 8 million+ people who signed up for health care through the Affordable Care Act, are sure to increase demand as well.
Many factors, including the recent economic downturn, inflation and faculty shortages have contributed to a huge problem; the shortage of nurses. This shortage is causing nurses to work more hours now than they did in 2000, and more facilities to require hires to have bachelor degrees in an effort to step up the quality in care to make up for the drop in quantity. There’s also the fact that from now until 2022 about 500,000 nurses will retire, and will need replacing. With the number of nursing jobs expected to balloon up about 500,000 jobs by 2022, we’re looking at over a million jobs that will need filling by 2022.
Speaking of the soon to be retiring workforce, as a result of the economic downturn many of those that had planned to retire decided to stay on to ride out the economic uncertainty. This left fewer jobs available for the new graduates, as it is more fiscally prudent to keep the experienced hands on (new hires cost as much as 1.3 times a RN’s salary).
Finally, facilities are having difficulties retaining staff. The dearth of nurses leaves those that have to fill in the gaps overwhelmed and dissatisfied. This leads to burnout on the job which is the cause of the rather high turnover rate—50% leave their first job after 2 years—these deficits have been known to negatively affect patient outcomes.
The first part of this solution is relatively simple: increase program enrollment by making it more attractive to join. This includes loan repayment programs and scholarship opportunities for nursing students. It is estimated that the number of graduates would have to increase by 90% to cover the impending deficit.
Another solution has to do with technology aimed at increasing the effectiveness of nurses in the field. In an effort to improve the accuracy and consistency of patient care, EHRs (Electronic Health Records) are being implemented country-wide. Significantly reducing the amount of transcribing and searching for missing pieces of medical history nurses traditionally have to do—normally a big drain on labor and resources—as well as having all information on a patient at their fingertips along with safeguards in place (i.e. reminding the nurse about allergies or providing the correct dosage to give a child of a certain weight), goes a long way to alleviate some of the pressures of the job. Hopefully this translates to higher nurse retention rates.
The Future of Nursing
There is need for a huge increase in nurse educators and students. There’s also a great demand for nurses with greater education levels (bachelor’s and higher) to address this crippling shortage. Without a great influx of graduates, hospitals and facilities across the nation will be forced to close.