Nurses make up a large percentage of the total number of workers in the healthcare industry, working with patients in every health setting. The role they play in patient care is vital. Although nursing jobs pay well and provide substantial job security, there has been and continues to be a tremendous shortage of nurses in the United States.
When we think of nurses, many people think of a starched white uniform and a white cap. They stand at your bedside, giving medication and a warm hand if you are scared. Nurses don’t wear that particular uniform anymore, but they are still providing much needed care to people from all walks of life.
The average age of nurses is rising. Due to economic and job-related factors, nurses are staying in the workforce longer. Instead of getting younger, they are getting older.
The shortage of nurses leads to job dissatisfaction. The ratio of nurses to patients has increased because there are simply not enough of them to staff the floors in the hospitals. Some think that this leads to less time spent per patient and, in some cases, unsafe management of patients. One nurse can’t possibly attend to fifteen patients on a critical floor and maintain a competent level of care.
Nurses are leaving the profession because of burnout. Certain areas, especially floor nursing, has a high turnover rate because of the stress factor. Working longer hours and extra shifts takes its toll especially on older nurses. They may leave for jobs with insurance companies performing case management. The hours are more normal which allows for time with family.
Why is there a shortage of nurses? Well, there are many reasons. One is that there are not enough younger students entering the field of healthcare. The hot ticket is computer technology and entertainment. Kids are not interested in working in hospitals.
There is also ignorance when it comes to the role of nurses in the healthcare industry. Remember the picture I painted earlier? That is still the image of a nurse. Nurses are involved in more than care of the patient on the hospital floor. Nurses work in doctor’s offices, deliver babies, assist in surgery, work in healthcare management, and a dozen other areas. The record needs to be set straight.
Despite the ongoing need for many more nurses, schools are not accepting many students. Class sizes are limited because there are not enough qualified teachers and facility limitations, e.g., there aren’t enough classrooms. The end result is that too few students are graduating from nursing school. Certainly not enough to fill all the open jobs.
Kids don’t learn about nursing until they enter college and then, they already have a career path picked out. Every student doesn’t know what they want to do with their life, but they have an idea. High schools are offering healthcare curriculum programs to give kids a chance to explore the healthcare field and see if it is something they may want to do.
By the end of the decade, we could be in real trouble. Without enough nurses, the quality of patient care suffers. Doctors give the orders that nurses carry out but they do not follow up every hour on the hour with the patients. They can’t possibly do that and perform their other duties. Someone else is needed to provide that service – nurses.
Ending the shortage won’t be easy as it takes time for Universities to add more space and there just aren’t enough professors and teachers. Then there’s the challenge of getting more people interested in pursuing nursing as a career. With the amount of education and training that goes into producing a good nurse, it could take some time before the shortage ends.