Should the US be concerned about an impending nursing shortage?
Researchers at Georgetown University predict there will be a shortfall of 193,000 nurses by 2020. This is just one of a number of studies that suggests an impending nursing shortage.
Those who are predicting a nursing shortage point to the following contributors:
- The aging population
- The number of nurses who are nearing retirement
- A shortage of nursing faculty
- An increase in the number of people with chronic diseases
- An increase in the demand for nursing services due to implementation of the Affordable Care Act
- The number of licensed nurses who have changed professions
Other data indicates a potential nursing surplus
According to a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the supply of both RNs and LPNs is expected to outpace demand at the national level by 2025.
HHS projects that the RN supply will grow by 952,000 nurses (33%), but the demand will only grow by 612,000 (21%). The LPN supply will grow by 260,900 (36%), but the demand will grow by only 201,000 (28%), HHS predicts.
Supply and demand will vary at the state level
There will be a distributional imbalance of RNs at the state level by 2025, according to HHS. In sixteen states, demand for RNs will exceed supply; in the other 34 states, supply is expected to exceed demand. The states that are projected to experience the greatest shortage of RNs are Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.
There are 22 states in which the demand for LPNs is expected to be greater than the supply. States that are projected to have the biggest shortage of LPNs are Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia.
Experienced nurses are in greater demand
Although it appears that U.S. nursing schools are turning out enough nurses to meet the supply at a national level, some hospitals might be hesitant to hire recent graduates. “When we think about nurses replacing retiring nurses, there is an experience gap,” Pam Cipriano, president of the American Nurses Association, told The Atlantic. “People like me who have 40 years of experience will be replaced by individuals with three to five years of experience.”
In some instances, there may be a shortage of specialty nurses. For example, Alliance Community Hospital in Ohio recently announced it would be closing its obstetrics units due to a shortage of qualified nurses.
What can hospitals do?
Some of the things hospitals have been doing to combat nursing shortages include:
- Offering loan forgiveness programs
- Hiring traveling nurses
- Using staffing agencies
- Assigning non-nursing tasks to other healthcare workers (e.g., CNAs)
- Offering bonuses to nurses for taking on extra shifts
Recent healthcare system changes could affect projections
Ed Salsberg, a researcher at the George Washington University School of Nursing, told The Atlantic the evolving healthcare system in the U.S. is one variable that may affect projections.
“The healthcare delivery system has put in a lot of effort to make the system more efficient and effective, to reduce unnecessary use of healthcare services and reduce hospital readmissions,” Salsberg said. “We don’t know for sure whether this is going to increase or decrease demand for nurses. It’s one of the big questions as we look towards the future.”