Without a doubt, the United States is in a prolonged shortage of nursing professionals, with the trend anticipated to worsen in the coming years if interventions are not put in place by health care and policy stakeholders to address the shortage (Nardi & Gyurko, 2013). Indeed, available statistics demonstrate that there will be a 20 percent deficit in the registered nurse (RN) workforce by the year 2020 (Goodin, 2003), hence putting the safe, effective healthcare of most Americans in jeopardy (Siela, Twibell, & Keller, 2009).
The present paper not only illuminates the challenges and opportunities for addressing the nation’s shortage of nurses but also discusses how health care and policy stakeholders can address and remove barriers experienced by nursing professionals, with the view to enhancing health care quality and patients’ safety.
Challenges & Opportunities for Addressing Nursing Shortage
Available nursing scholarship demonstrates that one of the foremost challenges entails the shortage of nursing faculty in most nursing schools, which in turn reinforces the problem of nursing shortage because of the insufficient number of nurses going through the education system. Siela et al (2009) acknowledge that “the concurrent shortage of nursing faculty has a significant impact on the potential for admitting and graduating sufficient numbers of nursing students to address the shortage of prepared nurses” (p. 17).
The shortage of nursing faculty implies that both enrollments in nursing schools and subsequent graduation of nursing professionals are unable to grow fast enough to meet the anticipated demand for nurses over the coming years (Hassmiller & Cozine, 2006).
The second challenge concerns the low enrollment of nursing students due to funding difficulties and other related costs (Buerhaus et al., 2005; Chan et al., 2013). The third challenge experienced in addressing the nursing shortage entails the shifting demographics among Americans, which are increasingly signaling a need for more nursing professionals to care for the aging population (Siela et al., 2009).
This challenge is compounded by the fact that the average age of most nurses currently employed continues to rise towards retirement age, implying that most nursing professionals will be leaving the workforce at an alarming rate and at a period when demand is highest (Chan et al., 2013; Goodin, 2003).
Another challenge experienced in addressing the nursing shortage in the United States concerns job-related variables, such as burnout, dissatisfaction, and high nurse turnover. Available literature demonstrates that job burnout and low job satisfaction are driving nursing professionals to leave the profession (Siela et al., 2009), and that high nurse turnover and corresponding high vacancy rates are adversely affecting access to quality healthcare among Americans (Nardi & Gyurko, 2013).
According to Hassmiller & Cozine (2006), “nurses cite stress-related burnout and a large amount of time they must spend on non-nursing tasks as top reasons for feeling dissatisfied with their jobs” (p. 269). Nursing professionals are increasingly being overburdened, overworked, and overstressed in their current health care environments as administrators seek to develop more ways to cut costs, thus triggering a situation whereby more nurses are leaving the profession to be employed in more supportive and less stressful work environments (Goodin, 2003).
The opportunities for addressing the nation’s shortage of nurses include the development of concerted initiatives to increase enrollment in nursing programs (Elgie, 2007), focusing more financial resources on the funding of nurse education in nursing schools, and in retention of nursing faculty (Siela et al., 2009), developing interventions aimed at retaining currently employed nurses in the workforce and attracting young people to the profession (Goodin, 2003), and transforming the hospital work environment to encourage retention (Hassmiller & Cozine, 2006).
In recent years, it is becoming increasingly clear that the problem of nursing shortage in the United States is compromising the quality of care accorded to patients countrywide, resulting in negative patient outcomes (Hassmiller & Cozine, 2006). Consequently, health care professionals and other relevant stakeholders should come up with initiatives aimed at removing the barriers experienced by nurses, with the view to enhancing health care quality and patient safety.
For example, stakeholders in the health care sector should expand nurse recruitment initiatives and focus them on “attracting more young people, including young men and women from minority ethnic groups to the nursing profession” (Goodin, 2003, p. 338). It is believed that expanding recruitment initiatives will go a long way in dealing with the negative stereotypes associated with the nursing profession, hence attracting more young persons to consider nursing as a career option.
In dealing with the shortage of nursing faculty, lawmakers and other relevant stakeholders should consider passing bills and implementing policies geared toward “increased government funding for masters education, creative redesign of how education is delivered, and retention strategies for current faculty” (Siela et al., 2009, p. 20).
These interventions, it is believed, will resolve the faculty shortage and encourage the enrollment and graduation of the adequate number of nursing students required to address the nursing shortage, with the view to improving healthcare quality and patient safety. To address low enrollment rates, stakeholders should develop and implement economic policies aimed at subsidizing nursing education through the provision of grants, repayable loans, as well as vouchers (Elgie, 2007).
Federal funding initiatives for nursing education need to be enhanced with the view to addressing the nursing shortage predominant in the country and subsequently improving health care quality as well as patient safety.
Lastly, it is important for all stakeholders concerned to address the issues that hinder the retention of nursing professionals in the labor market. Most of these issues revolve around disharmonized personnel policies and benefits for nurses, lack of support in the work environment, lack of viable opportunities for career advancement, lack of flexible work schedules, and inadequate compensation. Addressing these issues is a step in the right direction as it is likely to reduce job-related burnout and dissatisfaction, implying that turnover intentions will be significantly reduced (Buerhaus et al., 2005; Elgie, 2007).
Available literature demonstrates that patients are likely to receive quality health care when more nurses become satisfied with their current work environments (Nardi & Gyurko, 2013). The turnover and job dissatisfaction barriers can also be addressed through transforming hospital-based work processes, transforming the physical design of hospitals, investing in research, transforming the hospital culture, as well as investing in people and partnerships (Hassmiller & Cozine, 2006).
Because nursing professionals are the linchpins in providing high-quality patient care in health institutions, it is only plausible that the challenges that trigger the nursing shortage are identified and successfully addressed through various interventions, as discussed in this paper. These long-term solutions to the nursing shortage should therefore be harnessed and implemented by health care and policy stakeholders, with the ultimate objective of enhancing patient care and outcomes in hospitals.
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Chan, Z.C.Y., Tam, W.S., Lung, M.K.Y., Wong, W.Y., & Chau, C.W. (2013). A systematic literature review of nurse shortage and the intention to leave. Journal of Nursing Management, 21(4), 605-613.
Elgie, R. (2007). Politics, economics, and nursing shortage: A critical look at United States government politics. Nursing Economic$, 25(5), 285-292.
Goodin, H.J. (2003). The nursing shortage in the United States of America: An integrative review of the literature. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 43(4), 335-350.
Hassmiller, S.B., & Cozine, M. (2006). Addressing the nurse shortage to improve the quality of patient care. Health Affairs, 25(1), 268-274.
Nardi, D.A., & Gyurko, C.C. (2013). The global nursing faculty shortage: Status and solutions for change. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 45(3), 317-326.
Siela, D., Twibell, K.R., & Keller, V. (2009). The shortage of nurses and nurses’ faculty. Critical Care Nurse, 19(1), 17-33.