How the Nursing Shortage Affects the Quality of Healthcare

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has been reporting for years that there is a severe nursing shortage crisis in hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country. The problem is expected to get worse as there are more baby boomers working in the healthcare industry are retiring than there are new nurses entering the workplace. Hospitals and other places of care are turning to the help of a healthcare consulting firm as a short term solution which is brilliant, however we do need to start thinking of the long term and the consequences of young people avoiding careers in the healthcare sector.

While nursing schools have seen enrollment increase by a little more than 2% recently, it is not nearly the spike needed to resolve this nursing shortage problem so many hospitals are facing. In fact, enrollment would need to increase by 90% to truly turn things around.

While enrollment at colleges are higher than ever, nursing schools are facing tough challenges to attract enough students to meet the demands. With more than a 20% increase in employment rates for healthcare industry, the nursing specialization saw the most growth last year. Although in the next 15 years, Dr. A prediction by Peter Buerhaus of Health Affairs states that the current nursing shortage is so severe that it will be close to two times worse than the nursing shortage of the 1960’s.

Even during a time where unemployment rates are increasing, the healthcare industry is one that is still hiring and growing in America. Although the American Association of Colleges of Nursing is struggling to tackle the nursing shortage with litigation and strategies, Americans are afraid that the lack of nurses is affecting healthcare, with 40% believing that healthcare quality has diminished in quality. Doubts around the quality of care due to the nursing shortage are increasing. Patients and the general population see the stress and dissatisfaction of over-worked and under-staffed nursing teams and time spent per patient must decrease to meet the demands.

Unfortunately, on a low level, insufficient staffing is causing a decrease in the quality of healthcare. Because of under-staffing, nurses are unable to spend adequate time with each patient, which reduces attention to detail. This causes stress, which decreases levels of job satisfaction. It could also lead to mistakes being made during surgery; it’s possible that when a medical provider commits malpractice, legal action might be taken by the patient due to the suffering they experienced because of the error. Hospitals are having to get a Motorola bluetooth radio for their nurses to be alerted when there’s a high-priority patient and move on from the person they’re working on. As efficient as these devices are to make sure nurses are where they’re supposed to be, it doesn’t make up for the obvious shortage.

Frustration is the driving force for nurses to leave an industry that is already facing huge challenges in hiring. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s October 2002 issue has stated that the nursing shortage is causing “avoidable patient deaths.” With the reduction in nursing hires, there is lowered access to effective healthcare.

Hospitals experience frequent nurse turnover, which lowers the consistency of care. The nursing shortage has allegedly caused problems in complication detection and communication between nurses.

Further enrollment in entry level nursing degrees can help defray the nursing shortage, yet it’s difficult to find a school that isn’t already completely overloaded with applicants. Access and accreditation of online nursing programs has made it easier for more students to enroll. Online degrees are becoming more and more accepted by healthcare hiring managers, because of the great need for nursing.

Legislation is being proposed to combat the nursing shortage. The Nurse Education Expansion and Development Act would provide capitulation grants to nursing schools in order to boost the number of students and faculty.

Nursing schools have seen some success in increasing enrollment rates with capitulation grants. Many states are taking initiatives to change the shortage of registered nurses in their own states. By partnering with sponsors in the private sector, this makes for some incredible options for students wishing to enter the healthcare field. Pennsylvania, for example, has raised more than a million dollars in funding to diminish the nursing shortage in the state. The increase in funding will help prevent the decrease in healthcare, as more nurses will enter the market.

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