February 1, 2021 | Health System Risk Management


A nursing shortage has existed for years. Understaffing has also existed for years and can be defined as the failure to have nurses available to perform nursing assessments and interventions in a timely manner or as scheduled. Shortages and understaffing of nurses have myriad causes, including the following (Brooks Carthon et al.; AACN):

One of the major problems relative to the nursing shortage is the demographics of the population. Baby boomers are defined as persons born between 1946 and 1964, which makes them, as of this writing, between 57 and 75 years old. By 2030, it is estimated that the U.S. population will include 82 million people over the age of 65, and older people require more nursing care than younger people. As the baby boomers age and require more care, baby boomer nurses will also age and leave the workforce. (AACN)

The registered nurse (RN) workforce is expected to grow from 3 million in 2019 to 3.3 million in 2029, an increase of 221,900 or 7% (BLS). However, in 2015 it was noted that approximately 40,000 nurses per year leave the workforce, and this number was projected to grow to 80,000 per year by 2025 (Auerbach et al.). As far back as 2007, one study showed that 13% of newly licensed RNs had changed principal jobs after one year, and 37% reported that they felt ready to change jobs (Kovner et al.). The number of nurses may not reflect the number of people working as nurses.

Part of the problem behind the nursing shortage is the unavailability of a sufficient number of students, training programs, and trainers. One survey cited factors including an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, and clinical preceptors as contributing to 80,407 otherwise qualified applicants being turned away from U.S. nursing school baccalaureate and graduate programs in 2019. Budget constraints were also cited. A shortage of faculty or clinical preceptors was named as the most common reason, cited by almost two-thirds of responding nursing schools. (AACN)

Unfortunately, the supply is not keeping up with the demand. Approximately 155,000 RNs graduate from their various training programs each year (Salsberg). However, the BLS forecasts 175,900 positions available for RNs...

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