The Nursing Shortage

Long hailed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as a nationwide crisis in the making, we are in the middle of a nursing shortage.  Or are we? According to the latest stats of March 6, 2009, 27,000 new healthcare jobs were made available in February and 681,000 jobs, in general, were lost.  Some of the latter were nursing jobs.

One factor that the Labor Bureau sites for the nursing shortage is the lack of qualified nursing faculty members to teach new nurses, and one of the reasons for the shortage of faculty is low compensation.  Nurse faculty members put their license at risk for every student when in the clinical setting.  The student nurses operate under the faculty’s nursing license while they are on-site.  Any mistakes made by the students are the responsibility of the faculty member.  This requirement, combined with the low rate of pay for faculty members, makes teaching unattractive to many nurses.  Without enough faculty to teach the programs, schools must turn away new applicants or place them on a year to two-year waiting list.  Lower numbers of new grads means low numbers of future nurses.

The average age of the current nurse workforce is approximately 46 and climbing.  As nurses age, and many take early retirement or reduce their working hours, job vacancies continue to climb.  There may be hope, however, if new grads are willing to relocate and hospitals offer incentives for doing so.  Not every area feels the nursing shortage crunch, hospitals that are surrounded by a large number of nursing school programs, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for example, have never experienced the anticipated nursing shortage.  In fact, many hospital systems must turn new nurse graduates away because they have a number of highly skilled and experienced nurses already seeking to change employers.  This leaves the new graduates few choices in their area and many have been forced to move to other states, or drive great distances to secure employment.

As the economy continues to twist and turn everyday, and everyday new trends are reported, it will be interesting to see the direction which the nursing shortage takes.

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