Whether you want to blame it on Obamacare or the increased patient load, the US nursing shortage is emerging as a major hurdle in the delivery of healthcare services.
Last year, the news of nursing crisis hit the headlines when Reuters reported that West Virginia’s Charleston Area Medical Center witnessed the worst nursing shortage in recent years.
The shortage of nursing staff in the US hospitals is no new thing. In fact, the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Nursing reports that the shortage began throughout the country in the mid-1930s.
Though it was an extremely unlikely situation during that period, the current shortage does not surprise anyone. A host of factors is responsible for this. These include rising incidence of chronic illness, increased access to affordable health care, and an imbalance in the demand vs supply.
The most important question that haunts every hospital management now is how they can get over the nurse shortage. What is even more challenging for them is to pay for the nurse recruitment cost, which generally amounts to $10,000 in direct cost (according to The American Organization of Nurse Executives).
Consequently, they have to swell the average budget allocation. Interestingly, hospitals have also started to pay signing bonuses and provide student loan repayment, free housing and career mentoring.
A Quick Look at the Nursing Shortage Statistics in the US
- S. nursing schools turned away 79,659 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2012 due to insufficient resources, including faculty and classroom space.
- From 2010 to 2011, want ads for registered nurses increased by over 40%.
- Nearly 67% of nursing schools say that they cannot accept all qualified candidates because they don’t have instructors to teach them.
- 55% of the current RN workforce is 50 years of age or above.
- The number of registered nurses who are expected to reach retirement age within the next 15 years: 1 million.
- The average age of the registered nurse population has been increasing since 2004.
- More than 75% of RNs believe the nursing shortage presents a major problem for the quality of their work life.
- 93% of nurses who leave the profession account for nursing shortages as one of the major contributing factors.
- By 2022, it’s estimated there will be a need for 3.44 million nurses in the United States.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts almost 35,000 vacant nursing faculty positions by the year 2022.
Top 6 Potential Causes of Nursing Shortage in the US
Undoubtedly, the US has one of the largest pools of registered nurses. However, the supply always seems to lag behind the demand.
Reports suggest that the number of registered nurses has increased from 12,000 in 1900 to around 3 million today. Most notably, out of those 3 million nurses, almost 2.6 million are actively working. So, what is causing the nurse famine? The answer is not easy, in fact, a number of factors come into play when you are talking about the nursing shortage in the US. Some of them include:
- Rapid population growth in many states.
- Shortage of the nursing faculty.
- Lack of clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.
- Low salaries for educators in comparison to clinicians.
- Aging population. Naturally, the incidence of disease increases with age.
- Increased workload on the nurses. An extreme pressure at the job can influence their decision to stay at the job or quit.
The Serious Impact of Nursing Shortage on Patient Care
When a nurse is under a constant pressure to deliver the best for long hours, they are more likely to make mistakes, some of which can potentially endanger a patient’s life such as medication errors. For the nurse, long duty hours and high stress levels can lead to job dissatisfaction.
Here are some interesting (and alarming) facts about how nursing shortage can result in diminished patient care.
- There is a close link between higher patient loads for nurses and higher hospital readmission rates.
- According to a 2012 article published in the American Journal of Infection Control, exhaustion due to high patient load can potentially contribute to an increased risk of UTI and surgical site infections in the patients.
- A single addition to a nurse’s patient load can significantly increase the risk of infections among all of that nurse’s patients.
- According to a 2011 study, the higher the nurse staffing levels, the lower the risk of infection. In addition, more nurses in a hospital also meant shorter hospital stays and lower failure-to-rescue incident.
Further Reading: Know the Consequences and Remedies of Nurse Fatigue
Potential Solutions for Nursing Shortage Problems
No single factor can solve the nurse famine all at once. It takes time and collaborative effort from all the concerned parties in order to find a long-term solution.
Some of the options to consider for solving this problem are:
- Subsidized funding.
- Higher wages for nursing professionals.
- Foreign or temporary nurses. This can cut down the recruitment cost for the hospitals; however, this is not a long-term solution.
- A more streamlined job description for the nurses.
- Higher enrollment rates in the nursing colleges.
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