Nationwide shortage of nurses projected to continue

Published: Mar. 22, 2018 at 4:52 PM EDT
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A shortage of nurses has had an impact across the country since the 1960s. Current projections show it will likely continue until at least 2040, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be a need to fill more than 1 million nursing positions by 2024.

One of the main causes of the shortage is that more than half of nurses are over 50 years old and reaching retirement age. The increasing elderly population and increased prevalence of chronic diseases has also caused a higher demand for nurses, leaving those in the field overworked and to many choosing to leave the profession.

The impact of the nurse shortage is directly felt by their patents.

"If we have a shortage of nurses in the United States, that will have a direct impact with the quality of care a patient will get if that nurse is possibly overworked, or caring for too many patients," said Joe Tacy, the Associate Director for undergraduate programs at JMU's school of nursing.

The shortage leaves nurses with less time to spend with each patient. Studies have shown that higher nurse staffing levels are associated with fewer deaths, lower rates of infection, and shorter hospital stays.

Another issue is the lack of nursing faculty. Nurses must have a masters or doctorate to teach, and although there are incentive programs to repay loans for higher education, teaching pays less than working as a nurse and many nurses simply don't want to leave their job to teach.

According to a Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions released by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there are more than 1,500 open faculty positions in the U.S., making it impossible to accept more nursing students.

"To recap, that's 65,000 students who are fully qualified to come into the nursing programs, but the nursing programs across the United States do not have the capacity to handle that additional amount of students," explained Tacy.

Tacy says there are other ways of getting a degree in nursing, like trying other schools, getting an associates degree, or doing an accelerated program that allows you to get your BSN in 1 or 2 years if you already have another degree.