Causes & Solutions for the Nursing Shortage

June 1, 2021

The healthcare industry faces many challenges and obstacles, ranging from changing technology to patient age. But few challenges are as severe as the nationwide nursing shortage. The lack of qualified nurses in the healthcare industry has had widespread implications across the nation. Therefore, it is important to understand the factors behind the nursing shortage and what can be done to both combat the issue and bring nurses into the workforce.

Causes of the Nursing Shortage

The healthcare industry has been facing an ongoing nursing shortage since the late 1980s. Many elements that have contributed to the shortage of nurses across the country have been identified and include:

  • Aging Population
  • The baby boomer population, the largest generation in the country, is reaching the point of retirement. This influx of aging geriatric patients and the steady growth in population means that healthcare organizations are under strain to meet the increasing need for healthcare services.
  • Aging Nurse Workforce
  • As the population ages, so does the nursing staff. According to a 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, the average age of a registered nurse is 50 years old. This means that as they retire, they aren't being replaced quickly enough by younger nurses.
  • Advancements in Modern Medicine
  • Advancements in modern medicine have allowed people to live longer and fuller lives. However, this also means that as the population ages, they require more care in their later years. Unfortunately, the nursing workforce is not large enough to support the influx of older patients. In addition, with improved technology and managed-care issues, only the most critical patients require hospitalization and intensive treatment. Therefore, more registered nurses are required to be trained in the new technologies and methods and help teach them to others.
  • Limited Supply of New Nurses
  • A limitation of supply in the number of nurses has led to a lack of current resources to train the next generation of nurses. While many people are interested in becoming a nurse, the amount of nursing programs and opportunities available to do so are limited because many nursing schools face issues such as a limited number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, and budget constraints.
  • Higher Stress Levels
  • Many experienced nurses are leaving the field due to the high levels of stress that come with working long hours in order to cover the shortages. Lower levels of job satisfaction coupled with long hours, low work/life balance, and higher stress working environments cause many nurses to burn out and find a career path that is more flexible and manageable.
  • Multiple Healthcare Areas Require Nurses
  • The nursing shortages affect a number of healthcare areas. In addition to hospitals, facilities such as assisted living communities and short and long-term care facilities struggle to keep a full-time nursing staff.

Impact of Nurse Staffing on Patient Care

While it's difficult to pinpoint the exact impacts the nursing shortage will have on the future, some effects are easy to see in the current healthcare industry. The biggest concern currently is a potential decrease in the quality of patient care due to the high nurse-to-patient ratio. Research studies point to a connection between adequate levels of nurse staffing and safe patient care. Additionally, patient satisfaction tends to be lower in hospitals and clinics that have a higher nurse-to-patient ratio.

Methods for Hospitals to combat Nursing Shortages

Resolving the nursing shortage is not an easy answer. It's a complex problem with many factors that must be taken into consideration. However, there are ways that healthcare organizations can start addressing the need for nurses.

  • Promote Professional Development
  • Nurses are more likely to stay within the profession if they are given opportunities to grow and advance their careers. By providing access to continuing education that nurses can fit into their busy schedules, the number of nurses in specialized roles will increase.
  • Allow Scheduling Flexibility
  • Flexible schedules help nurses have a healthy work-life balance and allow them to access educational opportunities. In addition, it also will enable nurses to decompress between emotionally demanding or stressful shifts.
  • Increase Communication Between Staff and Administration
  • Communicationis a key component in any successful business. Therefore, it is important to give nurses and healthcare staff the ability to voice concerns and share ideas about process improvement in order to create a supportive workplace culture.
  • Provide Incentives for Relocation
  • Though it may not always be possible to offer, providing incentive packages such as compensation for relocation, increased pay, benefits, and sign-on bonuses are excellent methods to recruit and retain nurses to healthcare facilities.
  • Utilize Travel Nurses

For healthcare organizations looking to fill temporary or immediate absences, working with a talent management company such as Health Carousel can provide immediate relief to a shortage in nursing staff. The Health Carousel Travel Network delivers qualified, best-in-class travel nursing across the United States.

About Health Carousel

Health Carousel is committed to partnering with world-class healthcare facilities across the country, providing rewarding assignments for Registered Nurses and Allied Health Professionals, and attracting the best internal talent at all career levels.