Are We On the Brink of a Nursing Shortage?

A number of those in certain specialties are set to retire.

A shortage of nurses may be on the horizon for U.S. hospitals.
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A sobering report published in 2000 that predicted a “huge shortage of nurses” by 2020 seems to be inching closer to becoming reality.

The study, conducted by a team at the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at Montana State University, accurately foresaw a decrease in the number of young people choosing nursing as their profession. Today, the number of those entering the field is not great enough to offset the number of baby boomer nurses who are retiring, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“If the policies don’t change, we could be facing a huge shortage of nurses — more than four or five times larger than any prior shortage in the country, roughly 500,000,” said the study’s author, Peter I. Buerhaus. “And that was because, at the time, there was a noticeable downturn in people coming into nursing – five or six years of steady declines. We said, ‘If that trend continues and we have the baby boom generation of nurses retiring, we’re in big trouble.’”

The picture isn’t entirely bleak, Buerhaus admits. The disparity is largely felt in specialty nursing areas and in rural hospitals. The burden now largely falls on states, communities or individual hospitals to recruit the nurses they need.

The retirement crisis also extends to nursing professors, who are themselves an aging group looking towards the endow their careers. The average age of “doctorally-prepared nurse faculty holding the ranks of professor” is 62.2, according to a recent report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

That report also found that “U.S. nursing schools turned away 64,067 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2016 due to insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, and clinical preceptors, as well as budget constraints.”

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