The one thing that most people count on when entering a hospital is that there are going to be nurses to take care of them. Yes, we do see a doctor when we are there, but doctors come and go intermittently. Nurses are the people we rely on. They check us into the hospital, take our vitals, and ensure we are comfortable while we are there. Imagine walking into a hospital and discovering that there are only 2 nurses for an entire floor. This is a reality that the nursing community is preparing for, as the predicted nursing shortage is looming whether the USA is prepared or not.
There are many factors that have caused alarm within the nursing profession and have resulted in the prediction of a massive shortage of nurses by the year 2020. Nursing enrollment in Universities is not growing fast enough, and there is a severe shortage of faculty to teach those already enrolled. As learning institutions require an adequate nursing degree teaching staff to be in place prior to accepting students for enrollment, there has been a lower acceptance rate for those applying.
Nursing has maintained it’s popularity as a career since the 1950’s, but there has a been a decline over the years from the height of the baby boomers entrance into the profession. As these individuals grow older and move into retirement, there are fewer younger nurses to fill their shoes. Without a steady influx of students into the schools, the numbers of nurses leaving the profession cannot balance out with the number of students entering. As well, the nurses who are currently working in the profession have a high rate of burnout, which results in them leaving earlier than retirement ages.
The bottom line is that a lower nurse to patient ratio means that more people will be inadequately cared for and perhaps even die in emergency situations. The main strategies that are being put into place focus on education. The recently introduced NEED Act for example, will access Capital Grants to expand nursing school faulty and enrollment. Nursing schools are seeking partnerships with private sector companies in order to boost funds to create enrollment and offset the costs of running the programs. On a statewide level, Governments are looking for private sector funds to match the amount that the state can invest in nursing programs. A Nursing Education Capacity Summit took place in February of 2009, and health leaders from 47 states came together to rewrite policy on nursing education, retaining faculty, and curriculum.
It is truly frightening to think of what could possibly happen within our health care system if the current policy makers and educational institutions cannot come up with ways to combat the rising nursing shortage. Nurses are the backbone of our health care system, and without an adequate number of them in hospitals, care homes, and public health units, our growing population will suffer.