It is already an open secret that the nursing shortage in many countries is getting worse year after year. In America, a list released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics put registered nurse (RN) as part of the top ten occupations that have the largest projected job openings from 2012 to 2022 because of the employment growth and replacement needs.
However, the demand for nurses is overtaking the supply as the same government agency estimated that there will be a deficit of approximately 1 million nurses by the year 2022. The reason behind this dilemma can be attributed to three different factors: aging population, aging workforce, and reforms made by the government in the healthcare systems, making the need for more healthcare professionals including registered nurses.
- Ageing Population: This is the primary reason behind the shortage of many healthcare professionals particularly registered nurses. Today, the number of people aged 65 and up is an all-time high, and it is projected to grow in the years to come. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that there will be 88.5 million people that aged 65 and above by the year 2050. When the aging population increases, so does the need for registered nurses as these people are prone to chronic diseases and other related conditions.
- Ageing workforce: Another reason behind the shortage is the aging of the nursing workforce. As per the American Nurses Association, 44 years old is the average age of the registered nurses and only 10% of the total nursing workforce are aged 30 years old and below. By 2020, almost half of the total registered nurses will reach the traditional retirement age. With many of the nurses’ workforce retiring and the increasing number of people that is in need of healthcare, it will create a demand that cannot be fulfilled by the current supply of nurses.
- Change in Healthcare System: The recent reforms of healthcare mean that millions of people can avail the healthcare system created by the government, creating a need for more health professionals, including nurses in providing the medical response.
Effect of Nursing Shortage
Because of the shortage, many nurses are required to work long hours daily, which can lead to stress, fatigue, and even job discontent. With these conditions, they are susceptible to make mistakes and can even commit other medical errors. Thus, the quality of their service suffers and results in poor service to patients, medication errors, and even emergency room overcrowding. When nurses are forced to work with a very high nurse-to-patient ratio, it is more likely that many patients will get an infection, injured, and some succumb to death. Other patients are discharged without the proper education on ways to properly treat their illness or injury. Hence, the chances are most patients will go back to the same hospital and seek another treatment. If nurses have fewer patients, it is the other way around. They will have more time to take care of their patients properly, and the quality of service will improve. Nurses will have a better interaction with patients and likely will be given the proper education on treating their illness.
The shortage of nurses can also affect hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities. As these healthcare institutions need patients to keep their business afloat, many of these facilities will be forced to turn patients away because of the shortages of medical staff, thus losing business opportunities. Likewise and as mentioned above, hospital understaffing can also result in a low quality of patient care which might affect the business point of view.
Strategies for Dealing with the Nursing Shortage
Dealing and making the strategies to reverse the current trend of nursing shortage will not be easy as it involves a lot of parties, and the issue is complex and interrelated. It is not feasible to deal with a single factor and solution to address the whole issue but to have a system that involves all factors involved education, health delivery systems, and the work environment. It is also important to include the government’s legislation, regulation, and the advancement of technology in relation to healthcare. The following factors are interrelated and should be included in making strategies to reverse the current trend of the nursing shortage.
Different Ways Hospitals can Overcome Shortage of Nurses
Hospitals as the major part of the working environment can help cope with the problem by creating and maintaining staff development programs and lifelong learning initiatives. It is important that your hospital management team creates an atmosphere in which all the staff, including nurses, have the opportunity for career growth which will give them a reason to stay in the hospital for a long-term career. Below are the ways for a hospital to overcome the shortage of nurses:
- Flexibility of Schedule: Nurses recognize the importance of a flexible schedule, especially for those who already have families and those enrolled for increasing their education. Flexible schedule will create a healthy environment and will reduce stress among nurses.
- Career Enhancement Program: It is important that the hospital management team encourage all its registered nurses to pursue their education further and enhance their medical careers. This career enhancement program will give a lot of benefits to nurses, especially with career satisfaction.
- Listening to Concerns and Grievances: This is one way of maintaining a good relationship with nurses. When they can easily speak out their concerns, suggestions, and even complaints, this will give them the feeling of importance and value. Listening to concerns and grievances will also provide ideas for improving the working environment and the day to day working procedure.
Education as a Strategy for Addressing the Shortage of Nurses
Many education policy initiatives have been formed to combat the shortage of nurses. Statewide initiative, for example, has been made in the state of Wisconsin in America, giving fellowships and loan forgiveness for future nurse faculty who agreed to teach in the state after graduation. Some nursing schools have also formed strategic partnerships with the private sector to expand student capacity in schools. Last February 2002, a private company in Johnson and Johnsons helped the “Campaign for Nursing’s Future” wherein they promoted nursing as the best career choice, which also included promoting it on television, websites, brochures, and other visuals. There should be a need to have more initiatives for education policy to help solve the shortage of nurses.
Legislation and Regulation related to Nursing
The American Nurses Association and other nurses associations in America have advocated for the increase of funding in nursing education and other government-funded initiatives that are designed to improve the capacity and the resources for the education of nurses. The association is also advocating for better identification of registered nursing services in Medicare, Medicaid, and other reimbursement systems.
The American Nurses Association is also supporting potential technology discoveries that will enhance the capacity of a reduced nursing workforce. Any new research and formation of new technology that will help reduce the workload of nurses will be a big help.
Reversing the current trend of the shortage of nursing is not an easy problem to solve. There are many long-term solutions that can be done on all factors. Changing the working environment in hospitals, education, legislation by the government, technology, and research are just a few factors that need to be addressed to combat the crisis. With all these problems, nurses are still one of the most trusted and well-respected professions in the medical field, and this shortage can be used in creating a solid structure for the future of all the nurses.