Even with immediate action, the nursing shortage will get worse before it gets better. Estimates say the next seven years will be particularly tough. The good news for those who already hold a nursing degree is
the wide availability of jobs, giving nurses assured stability in the near future. There are currently around 2.5 million positions for registered nurses (RNs) in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 233,000 additional jobs for RNs will open each year for the next eight years (through 2016). The problem will be in filling these positions.
According to the AP/Post, last year, only 200,000 candidates passed the Registered Nurse licensing exam, while thousands of nurses retired, leaving further vacancies. One of the major factors in the shortage is the inability of nursing training programs to take on sufficient numbers of students. America also faces a shortage of qualified nursing instructors, and decreased funding for training programs. Additionally, the harsh working conditions lead to a high degree of job burnout for RNs. Burnout and a high turnover rate further complicates the problem due to the number of positions that require experience and specific training, such as ICU and ER nurses.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has reported the cyclical nature of this problem. America experiences a nursing shortage on a roughly ten-year cycle. Industry experts have observed that as the nurse shortage grows more severe, the government has intervened, funding hospitals and schools and mandating better working conditions. When these measures take effect and the shortage is no longer felt, attention is diverted away from nurses’ working conditions, which worsen, leading to another shortage.
Currently, even strong salaries haven’t assuaged the shortage. The AP/Post reported that registered nurses’ average annual income in 2007 was $62,480. The high availability of overtime pay often pushed salaries over $100,000 annually.
The solution to our current nursing shortage lies in many directions. The American Nurses Association recommends both an increase in salaries and improvement of working conditions for nurses. According to Cheryl Peterson, director of nursing practice and policy for the ANA, “The wages haven’t kept up with the level of responsibility and accountability nurses have.” Some hospitals have used more creative incentives to acquire and retain nurses, including offering prizes just for interviewing.
Other health facilities are recruiting nurses from overseas, since America can’t produce enough nurses quickly enough. Some healthcare facilities are even over-recruiting a surplus of nurses so they can be sure to have enough when they need them.