Today’s nursing shortage looks like it’s here to stay, showing no signs of abating any time soon. The current shortage is a national crisis in the making. It can’t go on being ignored or addressed with feeble attempts to restructure traditional universities that are turning away qualified applicants by the thousands!
Consider the following:
- A large and prolonged shortage of nurses is expected to hit in the latter half of the next decade, as the average age of working RN’s increases and large numbers of nurses retire (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2008)
- More than 19,400 RN vacancies exist in long-term care settings (American Health Care Association, 2008)
- 116,000 nursing positions are open; the national RN vacancy rate is 8.1% and growing (National Hospital Association, 2007)
- The nation’s nursing shortage will grow to more than 1 million nurses by the year 2020 (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2006)
An Aging Population
The ironic thing about the current nursing shortage is that advances in the medical field have played a major role in growing the shortage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy for both sexes was 47 years in 1900; this figure increased to 68 years by 1950, and to 78 years today. Better technology and advances in medicine have led to a longer life span. People can now expect to live longer than ever, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine.
Demand for nurses is expected to increase dramatically as baby boomers hit their 60’s and beyond. Living longer often means that the elderly must be cared for in skilled facilities such as nursing homes, and visits to the hospital are required more often. With a population of nurses who are aging as well, and too few nurses being trained to replace them, it is easy to see where this situation is leading–to a shortage that is worsening each year, and is not expected to improve any time soon.
Combating the Shortage
What are nursing schools doing to combat the shortage? Many nursing programs are facing their own problems arising from the shortage. In 2008, US nursing schools turned away 49,948 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs due to insufficient classrooms, sites, preceptors, instructors and budget constraints. Although the AACN reported a 2.2% enrolment increase in entry level baccalaureate programs in 2008, this small increase can in no way be deemed sufficient to meet the projected future demands (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2008).
The Future of Nursing
What does all this mean for those who are contemplating nursing as a career? It means that nursing is a wide-open profession, with limitless possibilities. Choosing nursing as a career means that employment opportunities will be endless, job security is virtually guaranteed, and wages will continue to grow as the shortage continues and employers attempt to attract qualified nurses. In fact, despite heavy job loss in almost all job sectors, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the healthcare sector of the economy was continuing to grow. (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2009) Unlike years ago, when nurses were undervalued and underpaid, the nurse of the future will enjoy competitive salaries and benefits. All of this, on top of being able to serve people in a special and unique way, will make nursing an increasingly attractive career in the future.