Shortage creates opportunities for nurses in U.S.

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Elderly female grey haired patient walking next to an African American female doctor

Adequate nursing levels are critical for the success of health care organizations and patient outcomes. Fully staffed medical facilities ensure that patients receive the attention that they need to secure the best outcomes when they seek health care services. However, the U.S. currently is facing a nursing shortage, which could be exacerbated in the coming years. While this situation presents challenges for health care organizations, it provides a number of opportunities for nurses who either are starting their career or currently working in the field.

The rising demand of health care

Demand for nurses is largely dependent on the number of patients who seek health care services. When more people need treatment in hospitals and other medical settings, more professionals are required to provide those services in a safe and timely manner. In recent years, these organizations have seen an increase in demand whom many attribute in large part to the health care plan passed by President Obama’s administration in 2010. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), millions of Americans have gained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Consequently, more people are taking advantage of health care services.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 20 million Americans have gained health care coverage,” HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in the statement. “We have seen progress in the last six years that the country has sought for generations. Americans with insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace or through their employers have benefited from better coverage and a reduction in the growth in health care costs.”

The overall uninsured rates among black and Caucasian Americans have dropped by more than 50 percent since the ACA went into law. The HHS further reported that of those 20 million Americans who gained insurance, 6.1 million were uninsured young adults between the ages of 19 and 25, a demographic that is particularly likely to live without health insurance.

However, the increased access to health insurance is not the only reason that demand for medical services is on the rise. The American Nurses Association reported that the number of people over the age of 60 in the U.S. has increased vastly. As people age, they require more attention from health care professionals, which is particularly true in terms of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.

These factors are among the reasons for the increasing demand for nurses that currently is happening across the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that jobs for registered nurses (RNs) are expected to increase nationally by 16 percent between 2014 and 2024, a rate that is much faster than the average across industries in the nation.

The number of open positions for advanced practice nurses — such as nurse practitioners and anesthetists — also is on the rise. The BLS reported that this number will increase by 31 percent between 2014 and 2024, a dramatic amount of growth for these positions. This increase opens up a number of new opportunities for health care professionals, particularly those nurses who are interested in advancing their careers.

Nursing shortage

The aging nursing population

While the rising demand for health care services is a contributing factor, it is not the only cause of the nursing shortage. The aging baby boomer population also is affecting the number of nurses currently working in the field and the number that will be needed over the next decade.

Baby boomers — the generation born in the decade following the end of World War II — are largely at or nearing the age of retirement, which includes individuals who work in the nursing profession. So as those in this group grow older and require more health services, those in their generation who work to provide those services are leaving the field. According to a survey by AMN Healthcare, nearly two-thirds of nurses who are part of the baby boomer generation are considering retirement. And because the current nursing population skews older, these retirements are expected to have a larger impact on the number of practicing nurses than the usual rate of retirement.

“The biggest cohort of registered nurses joined the workforce before the 1970s,” Pam Cipriano, the president of the American Nurses Association, told The Atlantic. “Many nurses held off retiring during the downturn in the economy… but now the retirements are starting.”

As these professionals leave the workforce, more nurses are needed to take their place. However, The Atlantic reported that the limited capacity of nursing schools is making it difficult to replace retiring nurses at an adequate rate. A report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing stated that 79,659 qualified applicants were turned away from undergraduate and graduate-level nursing programs in 2012 due to capacity and budget restraints.

Opportunities for new nurses

While the nursing shortage is a problem for the industry as a whole, it also brings about a number of opportunities for new nurses or those wanting to enter the profession. As previously stated, demand for both RNs and advanced practice nurses is extremely high, providing opportunities for employment for qualified individuals. Professionals who recently graduated with a degree in nursing will find that the hiring market is currently friendly. In fact, according to a 2014 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, after completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, entry-level nurses had a 90 percent and 94 percent chance, respectively, of being hired four to six months after graduation.

Opportunities for advancement also are increasingly available. Many leadership roles and advanced practice positions within health care organizations currently are held by baby boomers who are reaching the age of retirement. As these professionals phase out of the medical field, younger nurses will be given the opportunity to step in. To make the most of this professional climate, nurses should consider earning an online MSN degree from Bradley University. An MSN not only prepares professionals for advanced positions within the nursing workforce but also helps to ensure that nurses are able to provide the highest quality care to their patients.