Healthcare in the US is under increasing pressure due to an aging population. The baby boomers, who represent a far bigger demographic than the generations before or after them, are now at retirement age, while the nursing profession isn’t attracting the number of eager new recruits it needs. In fact, nurses are leaving the profession at a time when more are needed.
With the number of nursing positions that need filling set to rise by 16% over the next six years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a shortfall of one million nursing jobs in the US by 2024. In addition, rural hospitals and healthcare centers, especially in the south and west of the country, will be disproportionately hit by the shortage because they are further from nursing schools and cannot match the salaries and opportunities offered by institutions in major cities. These areas, however, often have high population growth and high levels of obesity and diabetes, necessitating more, not less, nursing care.
The recent expansion in nurse training programs is a major step towards solving the problem, as is the increase in the number of qualified teaching staff. But experts warn that it could be several years before the impact of the reforms are felt. It’s also vitalthat young people are encouraged to see nursing as a viable career, that is why anyone wondering how to become a nurse should read this first and then look into suitable training programs in their area.
Individual hospitals have tackled the problem by offering new nurses a generous signing-on bonus, among other perks. However, while this may attract more nurses to work at a particular hospital, it does nothing to tackle the overall crisis. It is not effective in attracting more young people to the profession, and nor does it help to retain nurses in the long run.
Attract and retain
Nevertheless, there is evidence that more high schoolers are choosing to go into nursing. The Health Resources and Services Administration reported a 34% rise in enrolment on undergraduate nursing degrees between 2012 and 2016 and predicted a further 9% rise by 2019.
It’s vital though that there are enough nurse educators to keep pace with demand, and also that the healthcare industry does its best to retain the potential nurses once they graduate. Without effective teaching and the possibility of a career that rewards dedication and service, that initial enthusiasm for nursing as a profession could be squandered.
Better working conditions
Efforts must also be made to increase morale among nurses in hospital situations, as well as offering them competitive salaries and in-work benefits. Generous health insurance and pension schemes, plus the possibility of meaningful advancement and promotion, will do more to attract and keep good nurses than signing on bonuses and free soda.
Better working conditions also mean that hospitals should be safe, clean and fit for purpose, so that nurses can feel that they are making a difference, and that the system that they are a part of is working for the good of its patients and isn’t cutting corners just to save money.