The Real Impact of the Nursing Shortage
Many people join the field of nursing because they're naturals at providing care. They enjoy making sick people feel well, and they enjoy solving problems that improve quality of life. Unfortunately, a shortage of qualified nurses also has an impact, and it's a problem we're dealing with in real time.
Why Is There a Shortage of Registered Nurses?
Over 79,000 qualified nursing candidates were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate programs in 2012. While it's clear there are plenty of nurses who want to improve their skills and the level of care they provide, the problem begins with a lack of classroom space, supplies, and most importantly, a shortage of nursing instructors.
According to the Southern Regional Board of Education, 12 percent of teaching positions haven't been filled, and that number is growing. Without experienced nurses willing to move from the hospital room to the classroom, we'll be facing a major crisis in the next 10 years. And with the high number of nurses expected to retire in the coming years, we could be facing an even larger shortage.
The average age of RNs is 47 years, with 55 percent of nurses being 50 or older. If you're already working in a nursing field, over half of your coworkers could be transitioning out of their jobs over the next decade. What will happen to your workload if there is no one to replace them? How will that limit your abilities to provide quality care? This is where the RN shortage becomes everyone's problem.
What Is the Impact of a Nursing Shortage on Patient Care?
Whether work on a surgery floor or a student health care center, understaffing is a major contributor to repeated visits and medical mishaps. Pediatric nurses with more than four patients were shown to have higher return rates than other nurses who had more time to spend on their patients. Post-surgical infections and urinary tract infections are also more common for patients of overworked nurses. Mortality rates are 6 percent higher when an RN has even one patient too many. The nursing shortage has a real and measurable effect on the quality of healthcare we receive, which consequently has a tremendous impact on healthcare costs.
It isn't just a shortage of nursing staff either, but a shortfall of Registered Nurses and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, who have achieved bachelor's degrees and greater. The extra education and time spent in training has measurable effects, and achieving RN status leads to many practical benefits for patients.
For instance, mortality rates shrink as education levels rise. The Journal of American Medical Association found that a 10 percent increase of RNs on staff reduced mortality and failure-to-rescue by 5 percent. As education rises, hospital stays shorten, too, as well as patient satisfaction.
Achieving a professional degree in nursing can benefit the student as well. RNs get the advantage of:
How Do We Solve the Nursing Shortage?
Unfortunately, the nursing shortage isn't a problem we can turn around simply by posting information on billboards. No pop-up will cure a lack of teaching space or a lack of qualified teachers. Due in large part to an explosion of retiring Baby Boomers and increased access to healthcare for millions of new patients, we need to invest in serious efforts to improve healthcare now.
Existing nurses who are willing to further their education and move into faculty placements can help lead the charge against a nursing shortage. Grants to cover education costs and supplement salaries to make teaching more attractive have already begun to be put in place. Partnerships between nursing schools and healthcare facilities are helping to open up training opportunities. Funds set aside for reimbursing education costs are also encouraging more students to get a four-year education, as well as convenient online instruction methods that make education more suitable for people who thought a four-year degree didn't fit into their lifestyle.
Students and working nurses have more opportunities now than ever before. Resources are growing, but organizations and individuals must still work together to improve the number of nurses in the field. We're anticipating a shortage of over 250,000 RNs by 2025 unless we step up as a society and make top-quality care a priority.