The current nursing shortage in the United States is nearing crisis levels, say hospital administrators.
According to the American Nurses Association, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the need for nurses to grow by more than 1.1 million by the year 2022. It expects more than 500,000 nurses to retire by next year, adding on to the 100,000 it expects to find other work. Before the pandemic, the nursing shortage stood around 300,000.
“In modern times, our health care system has not been tested to this degree,” said Joshua Ewing, vice president of Colorado’s Hospital Association.
Ewing has worked in his position for six years and says the solution to the shortage lies in retention and recruitment.
Nurses have reported low pay, burnout, and a lack of flexibility as the three largest reasons for leaving, so Ewing says addressing those needs first is imperative.
He says some hospitals in his state have offered retention bonuses to nurses who stay, but he adds giving those out on a large scale can be challenging as nursing agencies, which often staff traveling nurses at various hospitals nationwide, demand much higher pay than hospital staff.
“We need to focus on caring for those who are caring for us today; providing mental health supports, retention support to make sure they’re feeling valued and supported financially,” said Ewing. “We need to look at how we can move those in bedside positions now into leadership roles as we see this great resignation of healthcare workers across the country.”
A recent survey by ShiftMed, a health services platform with more than 60,000 healthcare workers, showed 49% of respondents said they were at least somewhat likely to leave the nursing field in the next two years, which offers credence to the idea that this shortage could persist for quite some time.
It is also why Ewing is targeting his sights on lawmakers who he says need to reevaluate policies that can limit the number of licensed health care professionals who can practice across state lines.
“How we approach these next weeks, months, and years will be defining for the future of our health care system,” he said.
Colleges and universities nationwide are also adjusting their enrollment to address the need. Bellarmine University in Louisville has added an accelerated nursing degree to their curriculum. The program, which will begin in January, offers another start-point for students to earn their nursing degree by year’s end.
Other colleges and universities are improving their outreach so they can reach more people who might be considering a different profession.
This article has been updated to add clarity to nursing shortage numbers from the American Nurses Association and Bureau of Labor Statistics.