Demographics, health care economics and other factors will combine to create growing demand for registered nurses, particularly those with bachelor’s degrees
Online degree sites about nursing tend to all proclaim loudly that there’s a nursing shortage in the U.S. But given the weak economy, is this true or is it hype to get students to sign up for degree programs?
A hard look at the numbers shows that, while hiring of nurses slowed briefly when the economy crashed in 2008, nursing jobs have been opening up since then at a rate that far outpaces most other professions, and that there does indeed appear to be a serious shortage of nurses – particularly those with bachelors and masters degrees – on the horizon. “At a time when many Americans are in desperate need of a job,” reports Claire Courchane in the Washington Times, “the field of nursing will soon be in desperate need for Americans.”
Long Term Demand
Several trends are coming together to create a kind of “perfect storm” that should keep qualified registered nurses in high demand. Although financial cuts in both private and public health care systems have made it tough for some young nurses to find jobs for the past two years, an upward trend is already emerging. According to hiring site Wanted Analytics, the number of jobs for registered nurses posted in the U.S. in June 2011 rose a whopping 46% over the number of jobs posted in June 2010.
But nurses, who form the largest part of the overall healthcare workforce, should see even stronger employment growth over the long term. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (quoted on nursingsociety.org) there will be a need for 22% more registered nurses by 2018 as there are today. An article by Dr. Peter Buerhaus in Health Affairs Magazine predicts that by 2025, there will be a shortage of nurses worse than anything that’s been seen in the U.S. since the 1960’s. The aging of the American population, combined with a massive increase in the number of Americans who will have financing to cover medical care through President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, will heat up demand for nursing care tremendously over the long run.
Nursing Student Crunch
But two factors are expected to limit the number of nurses who will be available to fill that demand. First, a large number of nurses in their 50’s are expected to retire over the next twenty years. Secondly, the tight supply of nurses with doctoral degrees, combined with budgetary limitations at nursing schools, is creating shortages of both nursing professors and seats for college level nursing students. According to one estimate, over 65,000 qualified applicants for bachelors and masters degree programs were turned away by nursing colleges last year due to these limitations.
The picture is creating both opportunities and stresses for nurses. While some are finding that they are being offered signing bonuses and other perks from employers, they are also finding that they must care for more patients than ever before. The physical and mental challenge of doing so has lead to higher turnover in nursing jobs.
The increasing complexity of medical care has created demand not just for more nurses, but for more highly qualified nurses. An October 2010 report by the well-known Robert Woods Johnson Foundation recommended increasing the proportion of nurses with bachelor’s degrees from the current 50% of the nursing population to 80%. At the same time, studies by several clinical journals have concluded that patient care is generally better and patient mortality lower in hospitals where a higher proportion of the nursing staff has a BSN or higher. Although a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee employment in a healthcare facility, it appears that BSN degree holders will be sought-after by health care employers.