Delayed for a bit by an unexpected increase in the age nurses are choosing to retire (thank better health and job satisfaction for that), by most accounts the massive nursing shortage once predicted for 2014-2015 is late.
“We’re seeing mixed signals today in the nurse employment market,” said Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, president of the American Nurses Association, in September. “There have been layoffs by some hospitals at the same time that ‘registered nurse’ ranks as the most advertised position nationwide.”
While the nursing shortage has behaved unpredictably in recent years, that does not mean it is not looming, the ANA warns. The signs are clear.
“It would be a big mistake to ignore the reality of an aging population coupled with a graying nursing workforce. It is essential that we take common sense actions to plan for and invest in the next generations of nurses,” Cipriano said. “Demand for care is going to grow and nurses are going to retire in droves, so we have to prepare now to meet future needs.”
By 2022, 1.1 million new RNs will be needed to fill new positions and replace RNs who will be retiring, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To prepare for and hopefully prevent a new nursing shortage, ANA recommends three things.
Rather than cut funding—which has dropped an average of 2% over the last 4 years—the federal government needs to do an about face and feed funding of the Nursing Workforce Development Programs contained in Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act, the ANA advises.
In a nutshell, the Nursing Workforce Development Programs provide grants for nursing programs, academic clinical sites, and students to help attract, educate, and support a greater number of nursing students. Loan forgiveness programs are also included to help future nurses and future nurse educators substantially reduce their school loans after graduation.
In other words, if you fund them, they will come—which is exactly what a nation facing a shortfall of nurses wants, right?
In 2012, a whopping 80,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs due to a lack of faculty. What’s more, in 2013, nearly three-quarters of existing full-time faculty were older than 50, suggesting the likelihood of significantly more open faculty positions in the future as those educators retire.
A shortage of clinical training sites for nursing students is another problem, according to nursing deans.
The ANA points to a clear need for bolstering nursing education by recruiting more nurse educators as well as practicing nurses to help train and equip the next generation of nurses. Have you always had an interest in nurse education? Now is a prime time to act on it.
Hospital challenges aren’t in short supply, but forward-thinking facilities can ease this one, the ANA advises, by hiring new nurse grads now to give them time and opportunities to learn from experienced RNs before they retire. To ease the transition from education to practice and to promote recruitment and retention, consider offering mentorship opportunities to new grads.
With the right support and training, these new grads can become solid assets to the nursing workforce—one that with proper planning can continue to grow rather than shrink, to successfully fend off a nursing crisis.