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Is There a Nursing Shortage?

Does the United States have enough nurses for the foreseeable future? Too few? Too many?

The healthcare industry is one of the largest employers in the United States, employing roughly one in eight Americans. With an aging population of Baby Boomers, an increase in the diagnostic capabilities for certain chronic diseases, and improvements in medical technology in general, it's no wonder that nursing is one of the fastest-growing professions in the healthcare industry.

After all, nurses are the ones we interact with the most during our hospital stays and doctor visits. In fact, there's been a recent push to expand the role of nurses to include duties previously reserved for physicians.

At this intersection of a growing need for healthcare and the systematic expansion of the role of nurses, a reasonable question is: Do we have enough nurses entering the workforce to meet the demand?

You would think the answer would be clear. But, as with so many things involving humanity, the "right" answer to this question depends on the perspective from which you view the evidence.

The Case for Not Enough Nurses

"The U.S. has been dealing with a nursing deficit of varying degrees for decades, but today -- due to an aging population, the rising incidence of chronic disease, an aging nursing workforce, and the limited capacity of nursing schools -- this shortage is on the cusp of becoming a crisis," writes Rebecca Grant for The Atlantic.

A lack of proper educational opportunities for prospective nurses may also exacerbate the problem. Grant reports, "U.S. nursing schools turned away 79,659 qualified applicants from … nursing programs in 2012 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints." The shortage of educational opportunities doesn't end in the classroom either. "In many areas, the barrier to entry isn't nursing school, but the training that comes afterward," Grant writes.

In light of this data, the journal Health Affairs projects a shortfall of a quarter of a million RNs by 2025, which is arguably one of the biggest issues facing the American healthcare system in coming years.

The Case for Too Many Nurses

In contrast to the prediction of an oncoming deficit of nurses, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services predicts that by 2025 there will be roughly a 340,000 surplus in the nursing workforce nationwide, including an excess of 11,200 in Mississippi.

The HRSA projects a 33 percent increase in the number of available full-time nurses nationwide, compared with a 21 percent increase in the need for nurses, by 2025. Supply, in other words, will outpace demand, resulting in too many nurses chasing too few jobs.

In 2001, the HRSA points out, the nation produced about 68,000 new nurses annually, a number that more than doubled to 155,000 by 2013. In the zeal to grow the nursing supply to meet demand, the nation's nursing schools may be creating a bubble of too many nurses.

The Common Variable

Yet, both sides speculate that "emerging care delivery models … will likely contribute to new growth in demand for nurses." Emergent specialization and higher education in the larger national body of nursing will increase the need for nursing -- by how much is anybody's guess.

The HRSA's numbers also hinge on the rate of retirement for the aging nursing workforce and the potential for greater insurance coverage for U.S. citizens. More insurance coverage means more healthcare visits, more diagnoses, more hospitalizations, and, therefore, a greater need for nurses.

How much weight you give to the growing role of nurses essentially determines whether there will be a surplus or a deficit of nurses in U.S. healthcare.

Higher Education Is Key

Regardless of whether a deficit or a surplus of nurses is on the horizon of the American healthcare system, it is beneficial for people interested in pursuing a nursing career to get an education. "We are going to see increased accountability and responsibility for nurses in the general areas of transitional care and care coordination," said Mary Naylor, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, as quoted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

As this country grapples with how to deliver and pay for healthcare that results in the best possible patient outcomes, there will be an ever-growing need for nurses with advanced expertise, skills, and understanding of everything from managing chronically ill patients to designing and implementing new policies.

Given the aging population in the United States and the evolving role of nurses, nursing education will play a leading role in tackling the issues facing the health of the population in the future, and those with more education will get preference over those with less.

Learn more about the Mississippi College online RN to BSN program.


Sources:

U.S. Health Care Workforce Larger Than Ever

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Nurses Take on New and Expanded Roles in Health Care

The Atlantic: The U.S. Is Running Out of Nurses

Health Affairs: The Recent Surge in Nurse Employment: Causes and Implications

HRSA: The Future of the Nursing Workforce: National- and State-Level Projections, 2012-2025

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