Online Master of Science in Nursing

A Look at the Nurse Shortage

Elder woman with a caretaker

Despite an uptick in job openings, the demand for nursing talent sharply outpaces supply. By 2022, nursing candidates will have access to over 1 million job openings, a number that health care educator Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., believes will double by the year 2025. Between 2010 and 2030, the population of retired people will grow by 75-percent to 69 million senior citizens — or one in every five persons in the U.S. As this forecast comes to fruition, caregiving institutions will bear tremendous pressure to find a timely staffing solution to the shortage of nurses.

Many Factors Influence the Nursing Shortage

Even though baby boomer retirement is the most cited reason for the impending nursing shortage, several other factors contribute to the gap. [1] According to research by, 80-percent of retirees suffer from at least one chronic condition and nearly 70-percent suffer from two persistent illnesses and require more service compared to patients with one illness. Additionally, some states have experienced steep population growth, and a great number of those individuals now qualify for affordable health care. Many of the nurses qualified to handle this increased workload will soon retire.

Nursing represents the largest occupation in the United States. Despite this, unfilled job openings continue to rise. [2] According to a report from NSI Nursing Solutions, current shortages have already left a significant number of communities underserved. A continued staffing famine will force the federal government to declare more underserved communities as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Current trends indicate that large states enjoy sufficient pools of nursing talent, while smaller states typically suffer shortages as high as 60-percent. On average, U.S. hospitals suffer a 40-percent shortage of nurses.

Researchers forecast varying shortage levels and propose different solutions for the talent problem. The current nursing shortage is sporadic, being prevalent mostly in rural communities. Some nursing advocates propose that a single national licensing standard will alleviate this circumstance, citing that many advanced practitioners avoid working in communities that limit the scope of nursing practice. The American Nurses Association proposes that private and government institutions offer incentives to encourage nurses to work in underserved communities and nurse educators to develop talent from within those populations. As a short-term solution, some health care advocates recommend merging existing talent pools into larger teams with clear and newly defined job responsibilities.

Nursing Schools Face Challenges As Well

America’s nursing schools, which enjoyed relatively moderate demand before the baby boomer generation, must produce a large group of trained staff members in an extremely short amount of time. Schools and medical institutions do what they can to encourage nursing as a career, but the outlook for the future is uncertain.

Many nurse educators will retire soon, making it difficult for schools to train new nurses. Even if schools were able to train enough talent, care providers are reluctant to hire so many untrained nurses without veteran staff to supervise them.

The shortage persists, despite the sharpest enrollment gains that nursing programs have experienced in years. Overall, registration in bachelor’s programs, master’s programs and doctoral programs have increased 4.2-, 6.6- and 3.2-percent respectively.

Many understaffed nursing schools have turned prospective students away, despite warnings by industry watchdog groups that schools will have difficulty producing sufficient candidates within the remaining time frame. This is perhaps the most damaging roadblock that exists to nurse candidate advancement.

Due to faculty shortages, U.S. nursing programs turned away almost 80,000 academic candidates in 2012. The schools reported almost 1,500 full-time vacancies going into the 2014-2015 academic year. Also, more experienced nurses have waited until later in their careers to pursue advanced specialties.

The Uncertainties Ahead

According to health care educator Peter Buerhaus, health care advocates have pooled resources to solve this dilemma but suffer from severe underfunding. [3] Research gathered by Healthline News reveals that if this trend endures, the nursing shortage will continue to grow well past the year 2030. As forecasts of the nursing shortage continue to increase in negative outlook, the apprehension of hospital administrators continues to grow.

Ultimately, the forecasted nursing talent shortage is made worse by the inability of the country’s learning institutions to maintain sufficient faculty staffing levels. Nursing schools are projecting greater shortages among qualified educators. For the first time, there are more students interested in nursing than there are available academic seats. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts almost 35,000 vacant nursing faculty positions by the year 2022. However, some institutions report taking over a year just to hire five faculty members. In addition to the shortage, nursing schools are also faced with the task of adapting their curriculums to new health care practices, which includes preparing nurses for more responsibilities than ever.

Learn More

We’ve designed our 100% online MSN program to meet the needs of practicing RNs like you: hard-working professionals with the drive to advance their expertise. Our robust core curriculum integrates advanced nursing theory with evidence-based nursing practice, allowing you to immediately apply new skills in the field.

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