Over the past eighteen months, we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic put a lot of pressure and stress on healthcare systems around the world, with healthcare in the US particularly hard-hit. Over the course of the pandemic, it has become very obvious that we need more nurses in healthcare today and just how big of an impact the shortage of nurses is having on not only patients but other healthcare professionals who are often left without the amount of support that they need to do their jobs effectively and without burning out.
Reports from before the pandemic suggested that there are not enough nurses currently in the US to meet the growing healthcare development goals and demands. In 2018, research from the World Health Organization found that worldwide, six million more nurses are needed to ensure that healthcare systems globally are working at their most efficient levels. Over the past few years, the nursing shortage in the US has been at its worst, and by 2030, the country is expected to be short of over a million nurses if things do not change.
So, what’s behind the shortage of nurses? There are various factors that have contributed to this shortage being more impactful and longer-lasting compared to in the past. The aging population has played a large part, including the fact there are now more older patients with chronic health issues to treat despite the fact that the nursing population has not increased with it. In fact, the opposite has happened, with many nurses themselves aging and leaving their careers for retirement. Some of the main factors that are driving the nursing shortage in the US right now include:
Lack Of Nurse Educators
The nursing shortage is not for a lack of people wanting to become nurses. As many people as ever are still and always will be drawn to this career where they can make a meaningful difference to the lives of others. However, the problem is that there are not enough qualified nurse educators to teach the people wanting to get into the nursing field, which has led to some nursing schools and colleges turning applicants away from programs or deferring enrolment as they simply do not have the faculty needed to teach the number of students who are applying. Higher Ed Jobs reports that there are currently around one thousand nurse educator roles that need to be filled. But with nurses needed in healthcare more than ever before, finding DNP educated nurses to take on these positions is not always easy.
People are living for longer than ever before due to advancements in medical science and technology. And while most of us welcome the idea of a longer life, more people growing to old age means that there is a higher number of chronic conditions and illnesses within the population, along with more people requiring regular care. In addition to the fact that many nurses are among the percentage of people who are growing older and eventually retiring out of the profession, the aging population means that nurses have more patients to deal with – and there are no more nurses to create a balance.
As mentioned earlier, the aging population isn’t just affecting patients – nurses are also part of it. However, more nurses are also retiring early. The average age of nurses in the US is around fifty years old, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. While this isn’t quite at retirement age, nurses are often more likely than other career options to retire early since they are struggling to keep up with the emerging technologies in healthcare or less able to keep up with the physical and mental demands of the job as they get older. By 2030, it’s expected that around one million current nurses will have since retired.
Overwork & Burnout
With a shortage of nurses and more older patients in need of care, the current nurses are often feeling overworked and burned out, since they’re taking on jobs that would normally be done by multiple people. In addition to this, the number of nurses who are now deciding to leave this career path as a result of being burned out and overworked has only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a particularly traumatic time for nurses and has led many to re-evaluate their career choices. While many of the nurses that are leaving the profession might decide to return to their calling once the situation is better and less likely to take such a toll on them personally, it is only adding to the shortage of nurses in the here and now.
How Did The Nursing Shortage Start?
The WHO reports that there have always been periodic nursing shortages over time and this is unlikely to change in the future. However, most nursing shortages of the past have been quickly and easily resolved on their own, usually by enough nurses joining the profession to make up for the ones that have left or retired, or to create a balance between the number of nurses and the number of patients. However, the current shortage is more serious than in the past as there are several different contributing factors. In addition, a shortage of nurse educators is making it much harder than in the past to ensure that enough new nurses are educated and ready to enter the profession and start filling in the gaps.
Which Areas Are Most Affected?
Some areas of the US are more affected than others when it comes to the shortage of nurses. Rural and remote areas tend to have been the most hard-hit since the majority of nurses tend to look for work in busier urban areas. Because of this, remote cities and towns have had more significant shortages of nurses compared to larger cities and urban areas of the US.
Which Nurses Are In Higher Demand?
While the demand for nurses covers registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses and nurse educators of every specialty, recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer to see that it is specialized nurses that the US is currently very short of. Throughout the pandemic, it became increasingly more difficult to meet the growing demand for nurses that had the specific knowledge, expertise and skill-set to treat the most affected patients. One reason for this might be the nursing shortage itself; with nurses currently working harder at their jobs to meet patient needs due to a lack of nurses, they may have less time to dedicate to getting into different specialty areas and getting the education that is needed to do so.
Is The Nursing Shortage Impacting The Rest Of The World?
While the US might have the biggest nursing shortage, is it not a problem that is exclusive to this country. Many countries globally are also suffering with similar issues mainly due to aging populations worldwide. Around the world, nurses currently make up around half of the entire global healthcare workforce. However, within the next ten years, the world is going to be short of around seven million nurses in total, according to predictions by the WHO.
Why Become A Nurse Right Now?
If the nursing shortage worries you, one of the best things that you can do is train to become a nurse. The more new nurses that are entering the profession, the better. Although there’s a shortage of nursing educators right now, there are still many nursing degree programs and other training programs available for you to consider, including online ABSN programs that are designed to help people with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree to get into a nursing career in half the time that it would take them to get a traditional BSN. Some of the main reasons to consider entering the nursing profession while there is a shortage of nurses include:
This one is a no-brainer – while there’s always going to be a demand for nurses, the shortage has made hiring new nurses even more essential, meaning that new nursing graduates are likely to find work almost immediately.
Currently, the salary for registered nurses is very competitive and is set to rise as healthcare employers do more to encourage more new nurses into this profession to offset the gap caused by the shortage. Nurses currently earn an average of $80k annually in the US with some states paying even more.
Career Security & Outlook
The nursing shortage means that not only will you be in high demand as a nurse, but your job will also be very secure. Healthcare employers are doing more to increase job security for nurses and providing more benefits to encourage nurses to remain loyal to the profession. There’ll be no need to worry about being out of work, no matter where you decide to go.
A shortage of nurses in the US and around the world means that healthcare as a whole is being hit harder than usual by the COVID-19 pandemic and the aging population.