If you think claims about a shortage of registered nurses are exaggerated, think again. Not only is there currently a shortage of qualified RNs, but it’s expected to intensify over the next several years. A variety of factors contribute to the problem, including increased demand for health care due to aging baby boomers and the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the country’s steadily aging population of nurses–many of whom are expected to retire in the not-too-distant future. If the problem isn’t effectively addressed soon, the shortage of registered nurses will create major problems across the country. In fact, many problems have already developed because of it.
How Severe is the Shortage of Registered Nurses?
Based on information gleaned from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is, indeed, a critical need for RNs in this country already. According to the BLN’s Registered Nursing Employment Projections, which was prepared in December 2013 and concerns the period from 2012 to 2022, the nurse workforce in the U.S. will increase by 19 percent from a total of 2.71 million in 2012 to a total of more than 3.24 million by 2022. This translates into the addition of more than 525,000 new RN positions in the U.S. during that time. Complicating matters further is the fact that around 525,000 current RNs are expected to retire during that time. Therefore, a grand total of at least 1.1 million new RN positions will become available over the next decade or so.
The shortage of registered nurses is projected to be the most serious one since the 1960s, but why is this issue coming to a head right now? As it happens, many different factors are contributing to the problem. Because there’s not just a single cause, addressing the issue is challenging–and that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
Some of the most notable factors contributing to the shortage of registered nurses in the U.S. include:
- Baby Boomers – Between 1946 and 1964, more than 76 million people were born in the U.S. They are collectively known as the Baby Boomer generation, and they are beginning to enter their golden years. As a result, a large swath of the population will increasingly rely on healthcare services for the next few decades. Health care facilities are already struggling to meet rising demand due to this phenomenon, and the problem is only going to intensify. After all, someone who was born in 1960 is only 55 right now. In another 20 years, the youngest baby boomers will be in their mid-to-late 70s, which makes a prolonged nursing shortage unavoidable and rising demand for healthcare an inevitability.
- Affordable Care Act – Thanks to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, which is more commonly referred to as Obamacare, millions of more Americans now have access to health care services than ever. The addition of millions of insured Americans means that more people are keeping up with their checkups and being seen by doctors when they become ill or are injured. Although health care facilities saw this coming, they were not able to prepare for it adequately. Obamacare is still in its infancy too. It’s likely that millions more will gain access to health care over the next several years, which will increase the severity of the shortage of registered nurses even more.
- RN Retirements – According to a 2013 survey, approximately 55 percent of current registered nurses are age 55 or over. Over the next 10 to 15 years, more than 1 million RNs will reach retirement age. Of course, not all of them will retire immediately, but a significant number will leave the workforce. As stated previously, the BLN projects that the shortage of registered nurses includes the 525,000 replacements needed for retiring RNs over the next decade.
- Lack of Nurse Educators – Because the shortage of registered nurses has been a problem for some time, many have been inspired to pursue careers as RNs due to perceived job security. Unfortunately, another issue is hindering many from doing so: A lack of nurse educators. Indeed, nursing schools around the country have been turning down qualified applicants in droves because of the problem. In 2012, nursing schools turned away nearly 80,000 from baccalaureate and graduate programs due to faculty shortages. This problem has hindered attempts to address the current shortage and will likely continue to pose a problem for a long time to come.
- High Turnover Rates – According to a survey by KPMG, annual turnover rates for registered nurses are around 14 percent. This issue is largely caused by the shortage of RNs, so it is a vicious cycle of sorts. When a facility doesn’t have enough RNs, nurses are forced to shoulder far more responsibilities than usual. They are often required to work longer hours too. This naturally leads to job dissatisfaction and other problems, leading many to quit. Some move on to different nursing jobs, but some field leave the field entirely.
Impact of the Shortage on Current RNs and the Public
To further expand on the last point, the current shortage of registered nurses is already negatively impacting currently employed RNs. They are reporting higher levels of stress and job dissatisfaction. These complaints are only going to escalate as the problem worsens.
Perhaps even more troublesome is the effect the nurse shortage is having on the public at large. Due to high RN turnover rates and high vacancy rates in facilities around the country, many folks are struggling to access reliable health care services. This is despite the enactment of Obamacare. Simply put, many facilities are unable to adequately care for patients due to a shortfall of qualified RNs.
Shortage of Registered Nurses: Possible Solutions
The shortage of registered nurses is poised to become a downright crisis in the years to come. Fortunately, many measures are being developed to help address the issue. For instance, hospitals around the country are partnering with schools to provide nurse educators and to assist students in earning their RN licenses. Many colleges and universities are working to subsidize nurse faculty salaries in an attempt to bring more nurse educators on board. Only 55 percent of all RNs have baccalaureate or graduate level degrees, and many employers are reimbursing RNs for advancing their education; in exchange, they’re typically required to commit to working for specific periods of time. Many employers are also allowing for more flexible scheduling to make it easier for RNs to pursue advanced degrees.
The Shortage Is Far from Over
Although the shortage of registered nurses ebbed a bit during the recession, all signs point to a major intensification of the issue in the years ahead. The issue will affect every single U.S. citizen. After all, even if you’re not a baby boomer, you undoubtedly know many. Besides, you don’t have to be elderly to be negatively impacted by a shortage of RNs. Imagine going to a nearby clinic and having to wait for hours because there aren’t enough nurses to handle the load. If this hasn’t already happened to you, get ready. In the meantime, let’s all hope that the steps that are being taken will bring about a swift resolution to the issue