The Ongoing Nursing Shortage


Nursing burnout

No matter what their degree, specialty, or place of employment, almost all nurses who contributed to our recent State of the Profession survey expressed concern at the widespread and ongoing nursing shortage.  

Read the full report here 

Root causes 

There are a number of underlying factors contributing to this ongoing nursing shortage, some external, some internal. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 275,000 additional nurses will need to join the workforce by 2030 to meet the healthcare needs of a rapidly aging nation.  

“In 2029, the last of the baby boomer generation will reach retirement age, resulting in a 73% increase in Americans 65 years of age and older,” said Lisa M. Haddad, PhD, RN associate Dean for Graduate Programs at East Tennessee University, and Pavan Annamaraju, MD, FACP, FASN, in their recent report. 

Likewise, the population of nurses is also aging. Nearly one-third of the workforce will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years.  

An unsustainable trend 

While not caused by the pandemic, COVID-19 greatly exacerbated this existing shortage. 38% of survey respondents called out this issue when asked what current needs they see in nursing. 

The shortage has placed significant stress on an already stressed workforce. Lack of staffing has led to unfair nurse-to-patient ratios, safety issues, diminished patient care, and ultimately, burnout among the nurses who remain.  

“There’s a mass exodus of nurses due to inadequate pay yet increasing responsibilities and burnout,” said one of the survey respondents, “plus lack of support from leadership.” 

Other respondents agreed. “Due to short-staffing, I sustained injury that jeopardized my health,” said another nurse. 

Recommended course: Boundaries and Burnout: Strategies for Nurses to Maintain Self

Student and faculty shortages 

The shortage extends to potential future nurses as well. “People are not seeking out the nursing profession and the baby boomers are retiring,” said one of the survey respondents. “[This has left] a big gap in the number of practicing nurses.”  

New data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) saw a slight decline in enrollments for students in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2022. Enrollment in RN to BSN programs declined by 16.9% in 2022.  

At the same time, more than 78,000 qualified applications were turned away from nursing school programs, according to the AACN.  

Nursing faculty shortages are most often cited as the root cause of this decline. The AACN’s Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positionsindicates 62% of responding schools reported full-time faculty vacancies.  

Non-competitive salaries and inability to find the nursing faculty with the right specialties were the top two recruiting hurdles. Scarce clinical placement sites, limited classroom space, and budget cuts also contributed to the shortfall.  

Looking ahead 

While the statistics look grim, there are spots of hope on the horizon. Download the complete State of the Profession report to learn more about local and national initiatives addressing the nursing shortage. 

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