America’S Nursing Shortage
By examining the consequences of the ongoing nursing shortage, as well as viable solutions, we can begin to rejuvinate the nursing profession and make shortages a thing of the past.
It is hardly surprising to any working nurse that the United States is "this close" to experiencing another nursing shortage. Many say the shortage of the 1980's didn't end, it simply got swept out of the spotlight by other trendy issues such as managed care. Though not every area of the country suffers the same consequences of the nursing shortage in the same time or in the same manner, shortages have been continuously documented across the nation.
While at the moment, specialty areas such as the intensive care units, labor and delivery, and emergency room areas are the ones being hurt the most by a shortage of qualified nurses, experts predict that the shortage will soon creep into every nook and cranny of the medical profession. Nursing shortages in America have traditionally coincided with the economic state of the country; when the economy is booming and unemployment percentages are low, a nursing shortage has been likely to follow. The "new" nursing shortage is less predictable, however, because it is based on more complex and intricate facets than before.
Many healthcare professionals don't blame the economic state of the country as much as they blame the economic cutbacks made by hospitals and other health care facilities that are instituted during all phases of our country’s economic state. Nearly one-third of a hospital's budget is spent on nursing salaries, so naturally that is the first place hospital administrators look to cut costs. In a misguided attempt to decrease costs without losing valuable nursing assistance, many hospitals have resorted to acquiring extra volunteers and letting them pick up the extra workload. The problem with this solution is, of course, that these are not qualified, professionally trained medical personnel; they are volunteers with a wide variety of backgrounds and educational histories.
The amount of students entering nursing colleges today has continued to decline. This trend can also be blamed on budget cuts, due to the fact that limited educational programs mean a limited number of students. However, another reason fewer people are enrolling in nursing school is that, in the past, nursing was one of the only career choices a woman had. Today, there are so many other alternatives that nursing as a career almost seems "outdated" to the modern woman. Today's working women have far more opportunities to find professions which offer them more respect, better pay and more pleasant working conditions.
An aging nursing workforce has also contributed to the problem. With the average age of practicing nurses being 44 years old, there is little evidence that a "new wave" of nurses has or will come about any time soon. Employers have not valued the new nurse graduate in the past, which has resulted in many missed opportunities to rebuild a qualified workforce.
The situation, however, is not hopeless; it is never too late to institute some positive changes. When hospitals are downsizing, the majority of the recruiting programs are put on the back burner, or become sidetracked by trying to attract qualified nurses from other organizations. A much more productive approach, in both the short and the long term, would be to focus attention on recruitment programs that attract qualified people, as well as retention programs which keep qualified nurses from abandoning their chosen profession. Recruiters can, for instance, develop valuable relationships with universities which are designed to allow more internships and externships. Designing effective preceptor programs with experienced staff members allows new graduates to enter into the field of nursing with confidence, loyalty, and a feeling of value, not only to their employer, but to society as a whole.