Is There a Nursing Shortage?

A dynamic nursing shortage is already underway for registered nurses. It’s happening locally, nationally, and globally. Unfortunately, it’s already starting to impact medical and care facilities—a problem that will continue to grow without a recruitment and retention plan.  

As a counterpoint, the demand for skilled nurses is growing. An American Association of Colleges and Nursing (AACN) fact sheet notes that “according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections 2019-2029, registered nursing (RN) is listed among the top occupations in terms of job growth through 2029. The RN workforce is expected to grow from 3 million in 2019 to 3.3 million in 2029, an increase of 221,900 or 7%.” 

Sources of today’s acute nursing shortage 

But what exactly is causing the acute shortage we see today? 

  • Pressure on nurses.

     With more daily demands, nurses are unhappy with their roles and burn out more quickly. Too-high nurse-to-patient ratios and short-staffed units mean administrators may call on nurses to pick up extra shifts, impacting nurses’ personal life and well-being. A nurse who works for a post-acute facility or a hospital must fulfill a monthly quota of hours, whether they work days, nights, or weekends. And when another nurse on duty calls out, the nurse working before them is asked to stay to cover the shift. These demands leave nurses with little control over their work schedules or lives. 

  • An aging demographic and attrition within the current population of nurses.

    The U.S. baby boomer generation is beginning to retire, sicken or even die, creating unfillable job openings. According to AACN, in a Health Affairs blog posted in May 2017, Dr. Peter Buerhaus and colleagues project that more than 1 million registered nurses will leave the workforce by 2030. 

  • Lack of proper training and education.

     AACN has reported that in the 2016-2017 school year, schools turned away about 64,000 qualified nursing applicants due to a lack of classroom space, funding, and insufficient faculty. Nurses are graduating from accredited programs but with limited resources to develop the skills needed to work within a medical setting. Highly experienced nurses are retiring, and there aren’t just enough training opportunities for new nurses. 

The nursing shortage is not an intractable problem. Facilities can reduce nurse burnout by adjusting internal policies to ensure nurse well-being and productivity, engaging other staff members effectively, and using productivity-enhancing technology.  

For the longer term, the industry can take steps to establish a career for new graduates. We believe our industry as a whole would benefit if more colleges adopted an accredited nursing program to meet the demand of the students pursuing a nursing career. Further, if medical facilities were to offer special programs with incentives for future generations to choose nursing as their career path, they would surely secure the nursing talent they need.