By: Josefina Romano, DPS Marketing Coordinator & Blogger

Nurses are the backbone of patient care and satisfaction, that is why it is so alarming to know that there is a significant shortage of them in the US. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, by 2022 there will be more than 3.2 million jobs for Registered Nurses and more than 1 million vacancies. With a large percentage of nurses retiring and less nurses being prepared to fill their roles, the challenge of overcoming the nurse shortage is imminent.

Factors causing the nursing shortage

The increasing nurse shortage involves multiple factors that have been developing over the years. One of the main factors lays at the beginning of the pipeline, the nursing schools. The enrollment at nursing schools isn’t growing fast enough to meet the projected demand. Per the American Association of Colleges of Nursing this shortage of enrollment is largely due to the shortage of faculty because of aging and retiring nursing teachers. Nursing programs are having to turn down applicants because they simply don’ t have sufficient staff to accommodate every interested applicant. Another factor causing the shortage is retiring nurses.  Approximately one-third of the current nursing workforce will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years, with a projected 500,000 seasoned nurses leaving the labor force by 2022. Filling the vacancies left by these retiring nurses is a major challenge because nursing schools aren’t keeping up with the ongoing demand generated by aging baby boomers that are requiring additional healthcare services. These changing demographics are generating a higher demand for nurses to care for our aging population.

How leading health systems are dealing with the shortage

Hospitals and health systems are using multiple recruitment and retention strategies as they brace for a nursing shortage — from bonuses and tuition reimbursement to career development opportunities, and partnerships with educational institutions. Some hospitals have opted to create their own pool and attend weekly recruitment events to ensure they have a pool of trained staff available for short and long term needs. Others offer sign on bonuses where they require nurses to work for a minimum length of time. Hospitals have also sought to form their own pipeline of nurses by forming partnerships with nursing schools. Such programs are beneficial both to the hospitals and prospective nurses who get the opportunity to shadow experienced nurses and gain real life experience while earning college credit.

 Impact of Nurse Staffing on Patient Care

Multiple studies have indicated that a higher work load can have adverse effects on the quality of patient care. Higher patient loads directly correlate to higher hospital readmission rates. While lower patient-to-nurse ratios have proven to have a positive effect by showing lower patient mortality rates, smaller rates of infection, and shorter hospital stays. In settings with inadequate staffing, patient safety was compromised. In an article published in Nursing Economic$, 93% percent of hospital RNs reported having major problems with having enough time to maintain patient safety, detect complications early and collaborate with other team members due to a high patient load. As experienced RNs begin leaving the workforce, we will likely see a knowledge gap that newly graduated nurses cannot fill right away. This means that hospitals may be staffed with a high percentage of young, inexperienced nurses.

Strategies to overcome the nursing shortage

Starting from the root of the problem can be one of the best solutions for the shortage. Multiple nursing schools have formed partnerships with clinical partners and other stakeholders in their search for support to help expand student capacity and add new nursing faculty. The AACN has also expanded their NursingCAS program since 2010, giving prospective students the ability to apply to over 1,000 participating programs. One of the primary reasons for launching NursingCAS program was to ensure that all vacant seats in schools of nursing are filled and to maximize their educational capacity. Other schools are also developing online programs to combat the shortage of facility space and qualified teachers.

The American Nurses Association is also lobbying Congress to increase federal grants to help fund nursing schools and organizations that work to improve access to education, increase diversity in the field and repay loans for students who go on to work in underserved areas.