Nursing: A Growing Supply and Demand Problem

Nursing Shortages in U.S. are Higher than Ever


Nursing is one of the largest growing occupations in the U.S. today and is expected to continue to grow faster than most professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 16 percent from 2014 to 2024.” Despite this enormous growth, there is still a huge shortage of nurses and nursing assistants in the workforce. How is this possible, one might ask? The supply simply cannot keep up with the aggressive demand.  

Why the Growing Demand for Nurses?

The increasing demand for nurses and nursing assistants has been growing at a higher rate than ever before. Several factors contribute to this phenomenon including expanded responsibilities, healthcare reform and most importantly, the aging population.

An Aging Population  

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 76.5 for men and 81.2 for women – approximately 10 years higher than it was in 1960. With an increase in senior citizens comes an increase in healthcare needs. The National Council on Aging reports that about 80 percent of senior citizens have a chronic health condition – 68 percent have two. These elderly patients need nurses and nursing assistants to provide them with care whether it is in a hospital, doctor’s office, assisted living facility, or in their own home.

Greater Responsibilities

Not only nurses, but nursing assistants, medical assistants and patient care technicians help hospitals and doctor’s offices run more smoothly. They handle all of the administrative tasks such as answering phones and scheduling appointments, but they are also becoming more experienced in clinical duties. Administering an IV, drawing blood from the external jugular vein and inserting nasogastric tubes are all nurse’s tasks that once had to be performed by a doctor. This increase in nurse responsibility allows physicians to focus on more critical duties such as operations or examinations. Their expansion of responsibilities is also proof of the growing doctor-nurse relationship. Most doctors will say that nurses are now seen as essential members of a team instead of subordinate employees.   



Healthcare Reform

There is debate about whether or not the Affordable Care Act has had a noteworthy impact on the demand for nurses and nursing assistants. Most healthcare professionals as well as the American Nurses Association agree, however, that the act gave millions of previously uninsured Americans access to healthcare services. And, with more people utilizing medical services than ever before, the need for medical personnel has drastically elevated.

Mid-level Personnel Also in Demand

Registered Nurses (RNs) are not the only in-demand healthcare provider. Hospital boards have been hiring more and more mid-level personnel like nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) for everyday patient care needs because they can pay them less than physicians. Mid-level healthcare providers take much less time achieving their degree than someone pursuing an MD, and they are just as capable of performing most patient care tasks. The Emory University School of Medicine even says, “PAs can do 85 percent of what physicians can do.”

Why Such a Shortage of Nurses?

If the demand for nurses is so high, and the profession is growing at such a fast pace, then how is there such a deep shortage? For a number of complicated reasons, the current and future supply of nurses cannot keep up with the evolving, urgent demand.

 Aging Nurses

As the population ages, so do the nurses. Roughly one-third of all registered nurses in the U.S. are over the age of 50. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, over 500,000 nurses are expected to retire by 2022. This would not be concerning if these nurses were being replaced by new ones at the same rate, but many facilities are reluctant to do this. Hospital administrators tend to feel more comfortable with a seasoned nurse as opposed to a recent graduate with little experience.



Inadequate Amount of Schools and Teachers

The biggest contributing factor to the nursing shortage is the insufficient number of nursing schools and qualified professors. A report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing stated, “U.S. nursing schools turned away 79,659 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2012 due to insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.” There simply aren’t enough teaching facilities to train all of the potential nurses, which is a huge issue. In order to create new facilities, administrators must find qualified teachers who are either practicing medical professionals or have a doctorate in a relevant field. Expecting an existing nurse or PA to take time away from their job to teach is unrealistic, and it takes many years waiting for new faculty to finish their degrees. 

Is there a Solution?

There is no question that there will always be an immense demand for nurses in the U.S. They provide emotional support to patients and their families, and they work alongside physicians as integral members of the medical team more so than ever before. Increasing the number of nursing schools and training facilities, particularly in rural areas, is absolutely essential to impacting the nation’s shortage. There have been campaigns aimed at increasing faculty in rural areas by providing incentives to recent graduates who choose to teach in those areas. With the aging population and healthcare reform, no single solution will end the shortage of nurses in the near future.

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