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The Biggest Nursing Shortage Ever

March 10, 2014

The nursing shortage is all too real as its effects on patients reaches across the country, from small neighborhood clinics, to skilled nursing centers to large teaching and research hospitals.

According to a recent nursing shortage statistics report from Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society of Nursing, a study by Peter Buerhaus, RN, PhD and STTI board member showed that between 1983 and 1998, the average age of working nurses increased by 4.5 years, bringing it to 41.9 years, with 40 percent of working RNs having reached age 50 by 2008.

An aging nursing workforce, along with a rise in population growth and declining nursing school enrollments create a “perfect storm” of current and projected nursing shortages as demand continues to outpace the supply of new nurses.

Improvements in health care technology as well as managed-care services have further increased the need for specialized, skilled nurses by hospitals and other institutions as most patient hospital stays have been reduced, leaving the sickest patients in need of more highly-skilled treatment.

What Does this Mean for Patients and Their Families?

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) cites the aging baby boomer population as a critical factor in a spike in the elderly population needing care in a recent report; the need for elder care will continue well into the future, adds a University of Illinois College of Nursing report, leaving a projected caregiver decrease of 40% between 2010 and 2030. As a result, the availability of quality health care for many of the elderly may be increasingly limited in the years to come.

It should come as no surprise to any nurse who has had to deal with understaffed facilities that nursing shortage statistics from an April 2011 study, headed by Mary Blegen, PhD, RN, FAAN, point to a link between higher nurse staffing ratios and better patient care outcomes with fewer medical errors or infections.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in April, 2013 of nursing shortage statistics, citing the uneven distribution of nurses in the workforce nationwide. While some areas of the U.S. have plenty of nurses to meet their needs, other states lag behind, particularly in the West, South and Northeast. This can have serious consequences for critical-care, oncological and other skilled-specialty departments and the patients served.

A traveling nurse agency serving these areas can assist hospitals and other institutions with their temporary or long-term urgent and acute needs for experienced nursing personnel in a variety of specialties. Nurses who are looking for employment with these agencies will usually need at least two years’ of solid nursing experience, an RN designation, and, for some agencies, additional acute care experience within a specialty. Regardless of specialty, seasoned nurses looking for continuing employment and willing to travel can make a positive difference for facilities in many areas experiencing a shortage of nurses.

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