29th Apr, 2009 | Source : American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
No Shortage of Nursing Opportunities
The United States is in the midst of an unprecedented shortage of registered nurses (RNs) that is expected to persist into the foreseeable future. According to the latest projections from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million RNs will be needed by the year 2016 to fill vacant positions across practice settings. A shortfall of this magnitude translates into a serious crisis that may limit access to needed healthcare services, particularly among vulnerable populations.
Nursing Shortage at a Glance
Today’s nursing shortage is very real and very different from any experienced in the past. As a huge segment of the population, the baby boomers, enters their senior adult years, the demand for health care will grow exponentially in response. This growing need need for care comes at a time when nursing schools are struggling to increase enrollment levels and a large percentage of the RN workforce is close to retirement.
Signposts pointing to a lasting nursing shortage are everywhere:
- In the November 26, 2008 Journal of the American Medical Association, workforce analyst Dr. Peter Buerhaus stated: “Over the next 20 years, the average age of the RN will increase and the size of the workforce will plateau as large numbers of RNs retire. Because demand for RNs is expected to increase during this time, a large and prolonged shortage of nurses is expected to hit the US in the latter half of the next decade.”
- According to a report released by the American Health Care Association in July 2008, more than 19,400 RN vacancies exist in long-term care settings. These vacancies, coupled with an additional 116,000 open positions in hospitals reported by the American Hospital Association in July 2007, bring the total RN vacancies in the U.S. to more than 135,000. This translates into a national RN vacancy rate of 8.1% in hospitals.
- The latest projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics call for more than one million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2016. Government analysts project that more than 587,000 new nursing positions will be created through 2016,making nursing the nation’s top profession in terms of projected job growth.
Simply stated, the need for nursing care and the demand for nurses are increasing, while the number of nurses to provide that care is not keeping pace.
Opportunities Abound in Times of Shortage
How will the nursing shortage impact new recruits to the profession?
Actually, there has never been a better time to become a nurse. Salaries are going up and working conditions are improving in an effort to appeal to new students and retain working RNs in the profession. Nurses are gaining more independence on the job which enables them to use the full capacity of their education and expertise. Job security is also extremely high given the fact that the projected supply of RNs will not come close to meeting the demand.
The media spotlight on the nursing shortage has also helped to showcase the many roles available within the profession. Though there is a great demand for nurses to provide direct care, nurses are also needed as researchers, health care administrators, policy analysts, and nurse executives. The baccalaureate-prepared nurse enjoys the greatest opportunity for career advancement as well as the ability to move seamlessly into upper level roles requiring a master’s degree or doctorate.
One of the greatest areas of need is for nursing school faculty. Nurse educators play a central role in preparing new nurses and adapting curriculum in response to changing technology and professional practices. The shortage of nurse faculty is hindering the efforts of nursing schools in many parts of the country to expand enrollments in response to the projected shortage.
The nursing shortage has also focused federal attention on the need to remove economic barriers to the profession. This translates into more resources for financial aid – grants, loans and scholarships – for those seeking a nursing education. Though aid is available to all nursing students in general, special programs exist to recruit members of diverse, underrepresented groups into nursing. Be sure to check with the financial aid officers at the schools you wish to attend for the details on specific programs
The nursing shortage has amplified the critical role nurses play in our nation’s healthcare system. Nursing is a challenging, dynamic profession that brings many rewards and career advancement opportunities. With salaries climbing, working conditions improving, and the demand for nursing services on the rise, it’s an exciting time to become a nurse.
For more information on nursing careers and sources of financial aid, I encourage you to take advantage of the following Web resources:
AACN’s Web Site: http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Students
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Web site includes a snapshot of the nursing profession, links to 640 schools, sources for financial aid, and the latest news on baccalaureate and higher degree nursing education.
Peterson’s Guide to Nursing Programs: www.petersons.com
Peterson's publishes a comprehensive directory of U.S. nursing programs including an expert advice section and indexes to distance education programs and specialty tracks.
Johnson & Johnson's Discovery Nursing: www.discovernursing.com
This Web resource contains a searchable index of nursing programs offered at all levels as well as information on scholarships, the nursing shortage, and hundreds of profiles of working nurses.
Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow (NHT): www.nursesource.org
A coalition of 45 healthcare organizations, NHT’s Web site features over a dozen career profiles, new student FAQs, and links to nursing education and career sites.