A nursing shortage is a situation that occurs when the demand for qualified nurses is greater than the current supply of existing nurses.
When this occurs the ability to provide quality healthcare begins to decline.
The amount of time it takes to help patients increases, while the amount of work each nurse has to manage becomes increasingly overwhelming.
In the worst situations healthcare centers have to turn down new patients in order to try and meet the demands of the patients they already have.
As the economy’s age and population size continues to grow and existing nurses increasingly reach the age of retirement new nurses will be needed to fill the gap.
This article will look at the potential causes of the nursing shortage, the impact it has on existing nurses, the effects it has on the economy and potential methods for solving it.
Potential causes influencing the nursing shortage
There are many factors that play a role in influencing the nursing crises such as retirement, education problems/issues, population growth and an expanding middle/elderly aged class.
These are some of the biggest issues known to impact the nursing shortage:
- Increasing number of nurses reaching the age of retirement
- Increasing population size/age
- Education issues limiting the number of students able to participate in the nursing program
- Healthcare reform
As more and more nurses reach the age of retirement the gap in the nursing shortage will continue to expand requiring more nursing students/graduates to fill the gap.
This is partially due to the large increase in professional nurses during the baby boomer generation, which are currently working in the nursing field and getting ready to retire or move into different roles.
One of the leading causes of the growing nursing shortage has to do with the inability to educate enough students on the field of nursing each year.
Every years schools turn down thousands of potential students because they do not have enough teachers available to educate all of the qualified nursing student applicants.
The issue isn’t finding enough students, its being able to accept and educate all of the qualified students that apply for the program.
Increasing population size/age
As populations continue to grow and more people enter into old age the need for additional nurses and healthcare resources will also continue to grow creating a potential gap between middle aged/elderly care and the amount of nurses available to provide proper care to an aging population.
Without a steady increase in the nursing population there will be a large offset in the amount of patients a single nurse will need to care for, which can create stress on the nurse and create issues on the overall quality of the patients.
Healthcare reform can lead to both positive and negative consequences among those who work in the nursing field and the economy as a whole.
On the one end healthcare reform that provides more individuals with a basic level of healthcare helps improve the society as a whole by giving healthcare to people who otherwise would have no form of healthcare at all.
On the other end providing healthcare to more and more people means there will be a growing number of people going to hospitals and healthcare centers, which can put more stress on the nursing shortage.
By increasing the number of patients without increasing the number of nurses the difficulties healthcare is faced with will also increase.
Finding a balance between being able to provide basic healthcare to more people and ensuring that there are enough nurses, doctors and practitioners in the field to accommodate the growing demand is a difficult task to manage.
The impact of the nursing shortage on existing nurses
The issues existing nurses face due to the growing nursing shortage can create additional stress among working nurses.
The increased stress can lead to work related mistakes, career dissatisfaction and physical, emotional and mental fatigue among other issues.
Here are some of the issues nurses face due to a nursing shortage:
- Increased mental and emotional stress
- Increased opportunities for work related errors
- Increased demands placed on the body
- Lack of career satisfaction and appreciation
- Scheduling conflicts
- Lack of childcare
When a nursing shortage occurs each nurse is expected to care for a greater number of patients, which can further complicate the work of nurses that are already working a busy schedule.
As nurses get assigned more and more patients to care for at a time the ability to manage and provide adequate care to each patient declines and the emotional/mental pressure it places on the nurses increases.
Being able to focus on the wants and needs of each patient, manage their medical data and handle other medical tasks becomes more complicated which can lead to more work related mistakes/errors.
In addition to the emotional and mental stress caused by a growing list of demands the additional work creates physical stress on the feet, legs, joints and backs.
Standing/walking for long period of time, constantly moving patients and medical equipment around and getting fewer breaks can put the body through a lot of physical demands which can lead to physical discomfort/pain, injuries and other medical related issues.
Increased work related mistakes/errors
Increases in work related errors are often a cause of fatigue and over-complication from managing too many tasks.
When nurses (or anyone for that matter) is stressed out and fatigued the ability to concentrate on a task is severely reduced and even those who try their hardest to be accurate and effective will see there work diminish as a result.
In healthcare accuracy is extremely important, however as nurses work longer shifts and are given more tasks to complete there ability to remain effective and error free reduces.
Nursing shortages can lead to scheduling conflicts which can have a significant impact on a nurses personal/social life and health.
Being expected/required to perform shift work, deal with schedule changes to fit the healthcare centers needs and work additional hours can have huge impact on a nurses ability to perform their work duties effectively and manage their personal life.
Important personal agendas such as childcare, personal time with loved ones, managing personal time and having a dedicated sleep schedule all become affected when a nursing shortage affects a nurses work schedule.
From a work related perspective schedule conflicts can cause issues with sleep, increase stress, create staffing conflicts and lead to employee dissatisfaction, which can have a big impact on patient healthcare and the healthcare centers overall performance.
When you combine increased mental, emotional, physical stress with increases in work related errors and scheduling conflicts you significantly increase employee dissatisfaction.
Additionally, some nurses may also become dissatisfied with their work due to a lack of appreciation as they are constantly being given more work to complete with little or no acknowledgement of their efforts.
The less satisfied a nurse is about going to work the worse the overall experience is likely to be, and those who are not happy with what they are doing or where they are often have a difficult time doing their best work.
Eventually this can lead to contempt in the workplace and/or a high employee turnover rate, which can further impact the healthcare centers ability to provide quality patient care.
Why we need more nurses in the field
From what we’ve talked about already in this article it is quite clear why we need more qualified nurses in healthcare.
By increasing the number of nurses we have on staff we can ensure that each patient is able to receive the healthcare they need, especially in lower income areas, which can lead to the improved overall healthcare of a neighborhood, city or state, better prevention in injury, disease and mental illness, faster recovery times for patients, better education, longer lifespans and greater reductions in medical errors and patient costs.
For nurses proper staffing can lead to lower work stress, improvements in communication, better scheduling, less work related injuries and more personal free time.
Overall the ability to put more quality nurses into the field can solve many of the issues being faced today by the current nursing shortage.
If the nursing gap can be filled the ability to improve patient healthcare, increase employee satisfaction and improve the economy as a whole will increase significantly.
Solving the nursing shortage
There is no easy way to go about solving the nursing shortage, however there are some steps that can be taken to help move it in the right direction.
By improving education, workplace conditions, technology and some of the legal aspects of nursing we can help to move the needle on the nursing shortage and maximize the healthcare that can be provided to the patients that are in need of quality care.
One of the biggest challenges and leading factors in getting more nurses into the field is solving the shortage of qualified nursing teachers/professors.
It is estimated that most nurses that move into the education field experience a pay cut in their salary and may also see reductions in terms of other benefits.
These reductions make it difficult to compel more nurses to continue their education and/or become nursing instructors/teachers.
By increasing the education budget for nursing programs and providing more incentives for nurses to go into teaching colleges and universities can expand their nursing program and except more students.
While it is easier said than done being able to increase campus resources, teacher capacity and the nursing programs being offered at the schools we can see less students being turned away and more growth in the nursing industry as a whole.
The ability to improve this area is largely dependent upon offering nursing teachers enough incentives, increasing education budgets and expanding campuses to except a greater capacity of nursing students.
The legal, financial and academic aspects of improving the education field are complicated but may be necessary to see positive movement in nurse education and healthcare.
One of the main areas of nursing that can be positively affected immediately is the current condition of the workplace.
Open communication, employee satisfaction and investments in medical technologies can greatly improve workplace conditions and lead to more effective patient care.
When a healthcare facility is dealing with a nursing shortage (minor or large) it becomes increasingly important to ensure that employee communication is a primary focus.
Rather than simply enforcing rules and expecting compliance healthcare facilities should focus on improving their employees spirit and work satisfaction.
Acknowledging and listening to employee complaints, providing constructive feedback, rewarding and incentivising good performance and investing in technologies that can take some of the workload/stress off of the employees can go along way towards improving moral and patient care.
Investing in good leaders and staff is one of the most important things a hospital can do to keep employees performing, especially during times of a nursing shortage.
It can also help a healthcare facility become less perceptive to a nursing shortage by reducing turnover and improving the interests of applicants.
If a hospital or healthcare center can afford to hire more staff in order to reduce the stress of existing staff members and improve overall patient care then it is a move they should definitely consider.
Technology is an extremely important component of nursing in many different aspects.
Technology allows nurses to communicate more effectively, manage additional workloads, provide better healthcare to patients, complete tasks faster and reduce work stress and work related injuries.
Continued efforts in advancing communication and healthcare technologies will allow individual nurses to get more work done in less time with less effort, which can lead to better patient care and steal back vital time so that nurses can focus on what’s truly important.
By bringing together entrepreneurs, healthcare facilities, legal institutes, government agencies and other healthcare bodies we can create technologies that can empower fewer nurses to do more and gain better results.
The goal isn’t to reduce nursing sizes but to help nurses become more productive and effective while reducing their stress and workload by offsetting some of the mental/physical tasks they normally have to manage.
While these are just a few brief examples of what can be done to improve the current condition of nursing they are important to consider and think about.
Many things can be done to improve healthcare as a whole and for things to get better we need more focus on the education, workplace, legal and technological areas of nursing and healthcare.
While the nursing shortage may sound overwhelming (and at times it can be) those who work in the nursing field can appreciate a lot of positive things that are related to working in healthcare.
For starters being a part of nursing and using your experience and expertise to improve the lives of patients can be extremely rewarding all by itself, however there are also a number of positives related to the career outlook of those who enter the nursing field such as job security, higher wages, employee benefits and career growth opportunities.
Those who are interested in becoming registered nurses can look forward to a host of positive benefits and a fairly secure future as the role of nursing will only become more important over the years.
The constantly growing need for qualified nurses means that those who enter into the nursing field can appreciate a high level of job security.
Acquiring a bachelors degree and gaining important experience can increase your odds of quickly securing a job and being able to move into advanced/specialized fields.
Hospitals and healthcare centers are always looking for good nurses to improve their facilities and are often willing to offer good wages and competitive benefits to nurses that are able to provide them with the quality of patient care they seek.
Because the nursing field is in a growing demand nurses can expect hospitals and healthcare centers to offer excellent salaries in order to keep their nursing staff happy and attract new quality nurses.
In some areas this can lead to competition which can further increase the opportunities for nurses to earn a good income.
Aside from earning a higher salary nurses may also receive good healthcare benefit packages and other incentives as a way to attract more nurses into the hospital or healthcare center.
Career growth opportunities
The nursing field is quite diverse and offers a plethora of opportunities for those interested in healthcare.
In fact there is a field for almost anyone who’s interested in the healthcare system whether its neonatal care, emergency care, mental health, law, research, entrepreneurship or politics there is a field that nurses can pursue.
Nurses can even become practitioners and open their own clinics.
With the right training, education and effort nurses can enter into almost any field they desire and because healthcare has been important since humanity first began it is fairly safe to say that nursing will continue to be an important field for many years to come.