The Looming Nursing Shortage: Why Are There Not Enough Nurses?

The nursing shortage is a critical problem facing the healthcare industry today and one that is expected to intensify in the years to come. The demand for nurses is increasing while the supply of nurses is decreasing. This is a problem that is only going to get worse as the population ages and the need for healthcare services increases.

There are a number of reasons for the nursing shortage, extending from education to burnout to early retirement. With an increased demand for healthcare services, nurses need more support than ever to guarantee a better future in nursing. Although it’s a complex problem, if we can begin to address issues now, we can guarantee a better future for nurses, patients, and healthcare systems alike.

Factors Impacting the Nursing Shortage

Educational Gaps

Mentors and educators shape the next generation of healthcare providers and there is currently a shortage of nursing school faculty. Without qualified instructors, there are fewer students being admitted, graduating, and joining the nursing workforce.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing school programs increased by 3.3% in 2021. This growth is a good sign that nursing is still an in-demand career option. However, the AACN also reported drops in both Ph.D. and master’s nursing programs by 0.7% and 3.8%, respectively.

There is also a need for increased capacity in nursing programs to meet the growing demand for nurses across the country. Despite growing interest in nursing school, over 91,000 qualified applicants were turned away by U.S. nursing schools last year. This was due to a lack of instructors, preceptors, clinical locations, classrooms, and budgetary concerns according to an AACN report.

Leaving the Workforce

And it’s not just the faculty that’s leaving the nursing profession. The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey found that the median age of registered nurses (RN)s in the US is 52 years old and 53 for LPN/LVNs, with more than 20% of all nurses intending to retire in the near future.

A recent workforce analysis found that between 2020 and 2021, the total number of RNs decreased significantly. This is the most dramatic decrease seen in over four decades, with more than 100,000 nurses departing the workforce. Notably, a significant amount of those nurses were under the age of 35. This sudden shift shows the need to retain early and mid-level career nurses on top of accounting for retirements.

Increased Demand

The healthcare industry is rapidly changing and evolving. With an aging population and advances in medical technology, the demand for healthcare services is only going to continue to increase in the years ahead.

Nurses are already in high demand and the nursing shortage is expected to continue to grow. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects RN employment growth at 6%, the demand for nurses outpaces that across all 50 states according to a recent Vivian state-by-state breakdown.

According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of individuals 65 years and older is anticipated to exceed that of those under 18 by 2034. This calls for greater demand in geriatric care, particularly targeted toward those with chronic diseases or multiple ailments.

Not Enough Support

The nursing shortage is a problem that needs to be addressed, as nurses play a vital role in the healthcare system. Nurses providing competent and culturally congruent care to patients while also supporting families and communities is essential to better outcomes. While they’re essential to patient care, the healthcare system needs to support nurses as well.

A 2022 COVID-19 Impact Assessment Survey found that over half of all nurses are considering leaving their current positions. Factors included staffing shortages, burnout, as well as health and wellbeing concerns. Many nurses also felt that they could not deliver quality care under current circumstances.

How to Address the Nursing Shortage

Upskilling Nurses

The pandemic stretched the limits of healthcare, showing a pressing need for upskilling and investing in nursing programs. Organizations like the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) provide continuing education, mentorship, sponsorship, and research opportunities for aspiring and experienced nurses. SHC is excited to sponsor several nursing scholarships for NBNA members to pursue their BSN.

Not only will it help nurses stay current with the latest technology and techniques, but it also provides opportunities for career advancement and more fulfilling work experiences. By investing in nursing education, we not only invest in the nurses themselves but ultimately in the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Mental Health Support

Mental health support for nurses is not only important but essential. Nurses are exposed to emotionally challenging situations on a daily basis, so it’s no surprise that their mental health can sometimes suffer in the process. Allowing nurses to talk about the different emotions they experience, the stress of their job, and the impact that it has on their life can result in better work-life balance.

Nurses need a support system that understands the unique challenges they face in their profession. SHC is proud to partner with Operation Happy Nurse, a nonprofit organization created by a registered nurse that provides a free community focused on supporting nurses’ mental health and wellness through stress management, crisis resources, fitness classes, nutritional support, social events, and much more.

Addressing Safety Concerns

It is imperative to prioritize the safety concerns of nurses as well as end abuse against healthcare workers. Nurses can be subjected to verbal, physical, and psychological abuse by patients or other individuals. This not only affects their physical and mental health but also their ability to provide quality care to their patients.

Measures such as providing training, implementing policies against abuse, and supporting nurses who report abuse can go a long way in ending this pervasive issue. The ANA and other nursing organizations are promoting a national #EndNurseAbuse campaign to raise awareness across the healthcare industry and the general public.

Appreciation and Retention

Supporting healthcare professionals is crucial, not just during difficult times such as the pandemic but every day. These dedicated individuals are constantly working to improve their skills, knowledge, and experience to provide the best possible care for their patients.

It is important to make sure that they have the resources, tools, and support they need to excel. By doing so, we can ensure that they are motivated, empowered, and remain committed to their vital, life-saving work.

The nursing workforce is facing a looming shortage that threatens to impact healthcare delivery for years to come. By addressing the challenges facing the nursing profession, we can ensure that there will be adequate staffing to meet the growing demand for care.