Hospitals Struggle with National Nursing Shortage
Nursing shortages are nothing new. For years, U.S. hospitals have imported nurses from Canada, the Philippines and elsewhere to fill vacancies. But an aging baby boomer population and aging nursing work force are combining to create an unprecedented crisis that could lead to more medical mistakes and even patient deaths, experts say.
The nearly 78 million U.S. baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are expected to put huge demands on an already burdened health care system. Meanwhile, in the past two decades, the number of young people choosing nursing as a career has declined, researchers say. That means an aging nursing population. Some experts predict that in the next two decades, members of the largest group of registered nurses will be between ages 50 and 69. Absent aggressive intervention, the nation by 2020 is expected to face a shortage of 808,400 nurses, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group focusing on major healthcare issues.
But even as hospitals face shortages, U.S. nursing schools last year turned away 42,866 qualified applicants to baccalaureate (RN to BSN) and graduate (RN to MSN) programs because there wasn't enough classroom space or faculty to teach them, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The shortage of nurses educated at the baccalaureate level could be affecting patient care, observers say. About 42 percent of the public and more than one-third of U.S. doctors reported that they or family members have experienced medical errors, according to a 2002 survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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