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The Nursing Shortage: Why It Is Getting Worse

The Nursing Shortage: Why It Is Getting Worse

The nursing shortage in the United States has been going on for quite some time. Many researchers even think it has been going on since the 1960s, after Medicare and Medicaid were passed in 1965. In recent years, the shortage has been increasing and the detrimental impacts have become much clearer. The impacts range from worsening healthcare access (particularly in rural regions of the country) to an increase in nurses feeling burnt out and unhappy with their career choice.

So what are the reasons for the current rise in the shortage? Why has it gotten worse instead of better within the last fifty years? Here’s what we know so far:

Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age

This is the most common reason shortages are occurring across the United States.There are two ways in which the aging Baby Boomer population exacerbates the nursing shortage. As this population ages, they require more healthcare because they tend to have more chronic health issues that need treatment. This means that we need more nurses to care for them. Also, one-third of the nursing workforce is among this Baby Boomer generation and are set to retire within the next ten years. Not only does this mean that they themselves need more care as well, they are also retiring. Less-experienced nurses are taking their place, but not at the rate in which the retiring nurses are leaving. There are about 3 million nurses in the current healthcare workforce. This means that in a relatively short period of time, 1 million nurses will be leaving the profession!

Special fields are overlooked

There are plenty of nurses in training and entering the world of nursing. In fact, there are so many people applying for nursing school, that many are being declined because there isn’t enough room or enough faculty to teach them (another issue impacting the nursing shortage).Another issue at hand is that many new nurses are being trained in the same specialty, whereas many vital specialty areas are being missed. Furthermore, the nurses who are being trained in those specialty areas are left trying to cover vast territories for people in need of their services.In short, there are disproportionate numbers of nurses trained in specialty fields compared to nurses trained in general practice.

More people have access to health insurance

Since 2010, with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, more people have access to health insurance. This has meant that hospitals have more patients, and thus need more nurses to keep up with the demand. While it is great that people have access to health insurance, it puts a strain on hospitals and clinics to increase the number of employees.

People are living longer

In an article posted by www.travelnursesource.com, they share that, “There are more Americans over the age of 65 now than at any other time in the country’s history.” Longevity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In general, humans want to live as long as possible, right? Unfortunately the quality of life goes down as the quantity of years goes up, and with age, chronic diseases rates go up. So, more people are living longer and the necessity for healthcare services has increased such that supply can’t always meet the demands. At this point in time, it seems that the country is in need of nurses more than it ever has before.

There are more nursing job varieties today

Typically, inpatient services have been the main environment where nurses work. However, in recent years, the variety of work locations has increased with the rise of outpatient services. This means that nurses have more choices when deciding where they want to work, be it in a hospital setting, a clinic, or an office. With the addition of variety of workplace settings, this also means that there are more jobs needing to be filled.

The nursing profession is still majority female

Some issues employers have been trying to navigate are related to offering better services to nurses raising children. With the increase in nurse burnout rates, nurses who are also raising children are struggling to get hours and benefits that work with their family life needs. Many new mothers either take maternity leave, cut back on their hours, or leave the nursing profession altogether. Although the responsibility of child rearing and family care is not as predominantly a mother’s role as it was historically, there are still disproportionate numbers of mothers doing the “second shift” of career work and family work.

Regional differences

Believe it or not, some areas of the country are not facing a nursing shortage, at least not not to the degree other areas are. One area that is more affected by the shortage are rural regions. Rural areas are not experiencing a sustainable flow or influx of nurses looking for work. Many nurses stay in urban areas, and nurses trained in urban areas are not necessarily properly trained to work in rural areas due to differences in technology and general management style trends. Urban-trained nurses may be hesitant or apprehensive to work in rural settings. Another concern is that nurses in rural communities have more responsibility due to the fact that they are caring for more patients there than they would in urban settings. This is another reason why urban nurses may be hesitant to work in rural areas. More and more people are moving to the urban areas for work.

Workplace violence

Violence and abuse in healthcare settings happens with frequency and is more common than in many other employment areas. Nurses, especially in inpatient settings, are most vulnerable to aggression from patients in the healthcare world. This leads to emotional distress and fear, which can negatively impact work performance and job satisfaction and may lead to leaving the profession altogether.


This list of reasons why the nursing shortage exists is by no means exhaustive. The issue at hand is a complex and undulating situation. Many of the reasons listed above are connected to each other and in many instances the shortage is contextually and circumstantially based. Next week, check back here for Part 2 on the nursing shortage, where we will explain why the shortage matters and give a summary on the impacts it has on the United States. Stay tuned!


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