With around 3.15 million registered nurses (RNs) and close to 225,000 licensed nurses in the U.S., nurses constitute the largest group of healthcare providers in the country. As of April 2016, there are more than four million active nurses in the country, which is primarily due to three factors: an aging population, an aging workforce of nurses, and rising demand for nursing specialties. To learn more about the future growth of the nursing profession, check out the infographic below.
Occupation growth data ranks nursing as one of the fastest growing professions in the country. Demand for RNs has been rising by 16% per annum, and around 440,000 new nursing jobs will be created in the country by 2024.
Demand for Nursing: Aging Individuals
An obvious reason for the rise in demand for nurses is the steady rise in the proportion of aging individuals in America. By 2030, one out of every five Americans will be 65 years or older. Further, a long life does not necessarily mean a healthy one. Today, eight out of ten persons aged above 65 years suffer from at least one chronic health condition.
The fact that more people are aging and more aged people require health care is leading to an inevitable increase in demand for quality nursing services.
Demand for Nursing: Aging Nursing Workforce
Another factor accentuating the shortage of nurses is the steady aging of the country’s nursing workforce. In 2000, the average age of a nurse was around 42.7 years. In 16 years, this has risen to 47 years. Further, close to a third of the total RNs in the country are aged 50 years or above. Data indicates that around 700,000 nurses will leave the workforce or will opt out of full-time nursing by 2024.
The combination of the above-mentioned two factors is leading to a critical situation: more people require nursing services in the country, even as the total number of nurses offering full-time services witnesses a steady and continuous decline.
Demand for Nursing: Demand for Specialized Services
The third, and probably the most important, factor in the nursing shortage is the rise in demand for specialist nursing services. The registered nurse, with an average annual salary of $70,000, is not the highest paid position in the nursing industry. Nurse educators who perform the task of educating and training new nurses are paid around $75,000 per year while nursing administrators, who perform numerous leadership duties, are paid close to $95,000 per year.
The need for specialization in the field of nursing is evident from the proportion of graduates opting for training in the nursing sector. More than a third of RNs in the country hold graduate degrees. This figure is significantly higher among licensed nurses with more than 95% holding a bachelor’s degree.
This is why there is high demand for a master’s degree in nursing despite the fact that such courses cost anywhere between $20,000 and $60,000. The costs vary primarily due to the choice of institution and the extent to which the coursework focuses on specialized nursing skills.
The shortage of those qualified to provide specialist nursing services, like educating and training new nurses, leads to a cascading effect on the shortage of nurses overall. Educational institutions offering nursing training are being compelled to turn away qualified applicants simply because they don’t have enough teachers and resources to train such a large number of nurses. More nurses will be in a position to join the job market only when there are more educators in the sector.
Further, there is an urgent need for more nurse administrators as well. While RNs and licensed nurses cater to patients, administrators provide leadership services that contribute to the smooth function of the sector as a whole.
Nurse administrators design patient care delivery systems and ensure the nursing process is updated and in sync with the latest treatments and medical services. They play a pivotal role in maintaining quality of care in institutions.
Further, they help control costs without compromising on quality, which impacts profitably, reputation, and credibility of the healthcare institution. Finally, nurse administrators collaborate with doctors and other stakeholders to develop a patient-centric care environment that operates efficiently and without complications.
The shortage of administrators, educators, and nurses is a vicious cycle that can be remedied by creating nurse leaders.
Nurse Leaders and Patients
Nurse leaders can adopt a holistic approach that is focused on helping patients identify healthier lifestyles that minimize the need for constant nursing care. Nurse leaders can also establish methods and protocols for caring for aged individuals, which will minimize instances of human error or procedural mistakes leading to health complications. Such leaders can also ensure a continuum of care from the medical institution to the patient’s return home.
Finally, the establishment of management practices for chronic diseases and ailments will be very beneficial, especially when a large proportion of aged individuals in America suffer from at least one chronic ailment.
Nurse Leaders and the Aging Nurse Workforce
Leaders can help aging nurses develop specialty skills through custom-designed education. They can help nurses take advantage of existing technologies and prepare for future developments in the field of medical care technology. They can also aid aged nurses in utilizing data management tools and solutions more effectively. Finally, they can help experienced nurses develop leadership skills through shared governance strategies.
Along with the creation of nurse leaders, the shortage of nursing educators can be tackled through the establishment of partnerships between hospitals and other programs. It is time to look beyond the traditional concept of educating nurses in hospitals and seek alternative solutions and strategies.
Apart from inviting faculty from academia as well as the service sector, qualified nurses and aspiring nursing students can be motivated to become educators. Adequate scholarships, grants, and even student loan services can go a long way in alleviating the shortage of educators in the sector.
Finally, the nursing sector will benefit from an approach where all nurses, young and old, focus on continuous education. This will ensure nurses have sustained exposure to the latest developments in the field and remain updated in terms of skills, knowledge, and technical expertise at all times.
Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.
Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students hone their knowledge and skills to assume leadership positions in informatics, healthcare systems or nursing education. The program aims to develop students who could take a role in shaping health policy, in educating other nurses and healthcare professionals, and in providing advanced care to their patients. Norwich’s online nursing program coursework has been developed based on guidelines by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.