What the nursing shortage means for healthcare

5 facts about the U.S. nursing shortage

Nursing is a high-demand occupation, which is a good thing when you're looking for a job. It can be a definite negative, however, once you've landed a position and find yourself working too many extra shifts or caring for too many patients.

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Most chief nursing officers (CNOs) - 72 percent of those surveyed by AMN Healthcare - said that they have at least a moderate shortage of nurses and most expect the situation to get worse. Only 7 percent of CNOs said that they're not experiencing a nursing shortage at all.

What effect does the nursing shortage have on healthcare?

Nursing shortages have a far-reaching ripple effect. They can lead to lower moral and high turnover among nurses, which can have a negative impact on patient satisfaction and care. In fact, over 40 percent of CNOs blamed shortages for having a "considerable" or "great" impact on patient satisfaction. The same was true for the impact on patient care, according to 34 percent of CNOs surveyed.

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Other research supports the link between nursing shortages and issues with patient care. When staffing is short, nurses must care for more patients. This leads to higher mortality and failure-to-rescue rates for patients when compared to patients who are in hospitals with lower nurse-to-patient ratios.

Hospitals are also negatively affected by nursing shortages. According to Moody's Investors Service, labor is a hospital's biggest expense and a nursing shortage causes these expenses to grow. Hospitals are increasing pay, offering sign-on bonuses and boosting benefits in an effort to attract more nurses. This negatively affects their profit margins and is expected to do so for years to come.

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What has caused the nursing shortage?

The nursing shortage is caused by several factors, including:

  • An aging population - The U.S. currently has more people over age 65 than at any time during its history. As people get older, they often have several chronic illnesses that need ongoing treatment, which creates a greater demand for health-care services.
  • A shrinking nursing faculty - There's also a shortage of nursing faculty, so nursing schools are able to enroll and graduate fewer students.
  • Retiring nurses - About one-third of nurses will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years, making the shortage even worse.
  • Turnover - For years, the number of nurses who leave the profession has been growing, though it may finally be leveling off. And since most nurses are women, many reduce their hours or quit the profession when they have children.

In addition, CNOs surveyed by AMN Healthcare also blamed the shortage on causes such as location and access to talent.