Nurses represent the largest segment of the U.S. healthcare workforce, with more than 3 million members (Institute of Medicine). They are the core of the delivery system, and their value across the industry continues to rise. Over the next six years, healthcare providers will need approximately 712,000 new RNs. As the U.S. patient population continues to increase, healthcare providers are relying more heavily on nursing staff to take on expanded responsibilities. Without a sufficient nursing workforce, meeting our communities’ care needs may become unachievable.

Factors Intensifying the Nursing Shortage

As the overall demand for nurses rises, there are several factors intensifying the shortage.

1. The Nursing Faculty Pool is Limited. The root of the nursing shortage stems from a shortage of nursing faculty, which is drastically limiting student capacity. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 80,000 qualified applicants in 2013.

2. The Healthcare Landscape is Transforming. Expanded access to healthcare through legislation here in the States and abroad is creating not only greater demand for services overall, but also greater demand for more sophisticated and higher quality healthcare, which, in turn, demands a more substantial nursing workforce.

3. The Nursing Workforce is Aging. The median age of nurses today is 46, with more than 50% of the nursing workforce being just a few years away from traditional retirement (American Nursing Association). In fact, according to a study by the ADP Retirement Research Institute, 20.3% of the current healthcare workforce will retire within the next five years. Healthcare providers will be impacted by the knowledge and productivity losses inherent to an aging workforce.

4. Voluntary Turnover is Rising. The demand for experienced nursing talent continues to rise and, subsequently, so has voluntary turnover. New roles across the industry provide RNs with greater choice. In fact, one out of every six nurses (more than 17%) leave their first nursing job within the first year, with an additional 33.5% leaving within two years.

5. Emerging Markets are Attractive. Emerging markets across the globe are targeting U.S. healthcare workers to fulfill growth needs. Faced with similar shortages, these providers seek qualified nurses, and they are offering highly-competitive compensation and benefit packages.

The Nursing Shortage's Impact on Patient Care

The Nursing Shortage's Impact on Patient Care

Strategies to Close the Supply-Demand Gap

The significant impact RNs have on patient care as well as the shortage factors putting organizations at risk both require the attention of executive leadership in making decisions today that will engage current staff and affect the future supply of nurses.

  • Engagement Beyond Patient Care: Healthcare providers must engage current staff in the business of healthcare. They must promote two-way communication and engage to make changes, innovate and drive results.
  • Develop Innovative Models for Care Delivery: Innovation in care delivery, such as self-service or telemedicine, provides new means for nurses to stay involved and engaged in providing patient care with the right level of competency and talent at the right time.
  • Investing Now for the Future: Healthcare providers should get involved in their local communities’ youth programs to promote nursing as a career and attract young people into the field.
  • Image-Building of Nursing Profession: Not only healthcare providers, but organizations across the industry should work together to build awareness and compassion for service to encourage others to seek nursing as a career.

During the economic downturn, organizations turned away less experienced nursing talent. When they should have been taking advantage of the market softness to invest in next-generation talent and delivery models, organizations continued to under-resource departments and ignore calls for new utilization of nursing staff.

The supply and demand of registered nurses has been highly debated for more than a decade. The soft economy brought about myths of having more registered nurses than were needed. In reality, it masked a looming shortage that is now a harsh reality.