The Nursing Shortage: Myth or Career Move?

May 9th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

For the past decade the news has touted the nationwide nursing shortage. There aren't enough people going to nursing school, there isn't enough nursing school faculty, there aren't enough qualified nursing programs to meet the needs of an aging America. And yet, of late, the rumor mill says new nursing grads can't find jobs. Is the nursing shortage a myth?

It may seem like a yes or no question at first glance, yet like many things today, the answer is not simple. The current economic downturn in the United States has impacted every employment sector, including health care. Hospitals, both public and private, are searching for ways to cut back expenses while dealing with rising costs and lower insurance payments. But job cutbacks in other fields have been, in the short run, a boon for nursing.

In mid-2009, the Wall Street Journal reported, "The nation's deep recession is helping alleviate the decade-long nursing shortage, as workers who had left the field in better times are returning in droves." Many nurses who had retired, left for other arenas or decided to stay home came back to the nursing workforce to compensate for a spouse's lost income or job benefits.

Because of the fluctuations in the economy no one can accurately determine how long the economic crisis will continue. Because of these changes and the returning nursing workforce many new grads are finding it difficult to get work right out of school since they are competing against experienced nurses.

However, in July 2010, the Tri-Council for Nursing released a joint statement cautioning against declaring an end to the nursing shortage prematurely. While nursing needs at hospitals and other facilities may be met right now, when the economy improves, and it will, the nursing shortage will widen.

There are many contributing factors that make nursing a sound career move. Two reasons are intimately tied to each other. As the baby boom generation ages and efforts to increase access to healthcare become stronger, demand for nurses will grow. In conjunction, according to preliminary data from the 2008 National Sample Survey released in March 2010 by the Federal Division of Nursing, the average age of the RN population in March 2008 was 47 years of age…many, baby boomers themselves, looking to retire in the next 10 years.

Another two reasons for the continuing shortage and therefore demand are also linked. Nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected demands and there is a shortage of nursing school faculty, which is restricting nursing program growth. According to one study, U.S. nursing schools turned away 54,991 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate programs in 2009 due to too few teachers, too few clinical sites and too few preceptors.

With that said, if an applicant can get into a nursing program and the farther up the education ladder they are willing to travel, the world is at their feet. The healthcare industry has been shown to be the only sector of the economy to maintain steady growth since the recession was first identified. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says being an RN is the top profession in terms of projected growth through 2018.

Nurses are needed as caregivers, faculty, scientists, specialists and administrators. Employers outside of the hospital networks include drug companies, medical equipment manufacturers, insurance companies, law firms and government and policy organizations look for employees with nursing degrees and backgrounds.

The nursing shortage is no myth and while the profession may face different short and long term challenges it is a steady, growth industry that offers opportunities for anyone willing to invest the time and effort.

One Response to “The Nursing Shortage: Myth or Career Move?”

  1. Carrie Says:

    It no longer matters where you move to, there is not a nursing shortage. If you read the nursing forums experienced nurses are having trouble finding work. Many hospitals are in a hiring freeze because they do not have sufficient patients. Nursing homes are laying off workers because of the “money follows the person” federal program. One colleague in southern California reported that no less than 1,000 experienced nurses applied for one position. The recession has come to health care.

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