Nurse Shortage: Exhausted Staff, Desperate Students, Overlooked Patients

“Being a Critical Care Registered Nurse myself, I completely understand the stressful conditions that a lot of allied health workers find themselves in these days,” says Richard Manuel, Clinical Operations Manager at Nurses First Staffing LLC. In 2008 he worked as a travel nurse in Miami, Florida with 8 very sick patients from a cardiac telemetry unit on his hands at one time. “Very often employers take it for granted that nurses are battling with a workload much higher than the one they are supposed to handle. Nurse shortage became commonplace and we are expected to do the job that really should be distributed among several people,” explains Richard. The trend in the industry has not been very promising. Not only there is an obvious shortage of allied healthcare workers, there is also a very limited inflow of new specialist into the field.

Shortage of nurses is nothing new; it has been around for years. Except now, with baby boomers nearing retirement age and millions of people getting access to insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act, the crisis seems more imminent than ever. The survey conducted by National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers  reports that 55% of RN workforce are currently age 50 and older. Meanwhile, educational institutions are failing to keep up with this disturbing statistic. U.S. colleges are struggling to expand their programs and find seats for a large number of qualified candidates.  American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that in 2011 over 75,000 qualified applicants were refused admission to professional nursing programs. 

Yet the most surprising phenomenon among all of this is that despite the existing shortage it has become much harder for new grads to find nursing positions in the past few years.

In 2013 the Wall Street Journal shared with us the story of Sasha Smith, who received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of San Francisco and upon graduation was forced to work as a nanny and live on food stamps. And she is not an exception. The Internet is filled with stories of those with little experience struggling to find a place where they can get started.

“One of the reasons new graduates have difficulty finding positions is that facilities do not have enough staff to train them and need more seasoned nurses to balance the floor's experience. Another reason would be that hospitals are becoming more strict about only taking in nurses with bachelor's degrees versus nurses with associate's degrees,” comments Richard. One more factor that definitely played into aggravating the situation is the recession. Due to the decline in the economy a lot of former experienced nurses returned to work, part time workers decided to pick up extra hours, and the ones who were due for retirement decided to extend employment. In the end, the younger generation had to turn away from the field and find other ways to pay their bills and student loans.

So what is going to happen next, when the financial market finally gets back on its feet, people start feeling less insecure about their future, and time inevitably catches up with those 55% of the nursing workforce?

We are going right back to where we started this conversation: nurse shortage, overworked staff, lower job satisfaction, increased percentage of sick employees at any given time, and of course decrease in the quality of patient care. In other words, if nurses are to care for patients, someone needs to care for nurses.

Resources

2013 Survey by National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers - http://jnr.metapress.com/content/m61518mn5001m025 

2011 Report by American Association of Colleges of Nursing - http://www.aacn.nche.edu/news/articles/2012/enrollment-data 

Wall Street Journal “The Myth of Nursing Shortage” - http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/04/25/the-myth-of-the-nursing-shortage/ 



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