It would be difficult to pinpoint each individual contributing factor that has impacted the nursing shortage over the years. However, there are a few main factors that should be examined in order to better understand the reasons behind this dramatic nursing shortage.
Enrollment in Nursing Programs
Although some enrollment numbers for nursing programs in schools have increased slightly, experts say the small increase is not enough to fill the projected demand for nurses over the new few years. In fact, some experts estimate that the enrollment numbers for younger people entering nursing programs would have to increase exponentially—by 40 percent annually—to meet the demand for nurses as older registered nurses, or RNs, retire from the work force.
However, enrollment cannot increase in these numbers because of constraining factors placed on nursing programs. Thousands of well qualified nursing applicants are being turned away each year because nursing programs are not well funded and cannot afford the staff, laboratories, and clinical facilities required to fulfill the needs of more nursing students. It has been estimated that about two-thirds of nursing schools turned these qualified applicants away because of lack of staff and facilities to teach them.
Average Age of Today’s Nurse
These two issues—a catch-22 in themselves—only compound the nursing shortage because as fewer nurses are able to enter programs and to graduate, the average age of RNs is increasing. These seasoned RNs have to keep working at their hospitals and clinics longer because there are not enough up and coming nurses to fill their positions. When these RNs retire, their hospitals or clinics will be faced with another nursing shortage.
As the American baby boomers age, the need for more nurses to care for them increases. However, because of the shortage of facilities and lack of funding to train new nurses, medical facilities are experiencing a shortage. This shortage is compounded by the lack of new nurses entering the work force as older RNs choose to retire. Although many different reasons can point to the forces behind the nursing shortage, these are a few of the most important ones.