The Future of Nursing: How the Nurse Shortage Will Change the Industry

The Future of Nursing: How the Nurse Shortage Will Change the Industry

There is a growing need for nursing.  Consider also our online certifications for nurses from AIHCP
There is a growing need for nursing. Consider also our online certifications for nurses from AIHCP


As the baby boomer population ages and access to health care increases, a growing number of people are seeking medical treatment. Unfortunately, the United States has been facing a serious shortage of nurses. As a result, each area of the nursing industry, from patient care to nursing education, faces unprecedented challenges.

Increase in Patients

With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, millions of insured Americans who previously did not have the option to seek treatment will likely begin to use health services, greatly increasing the demand for nurses. Aging baby boomers facing age-related diseases require specialized nursing care, like gerontological nursing. In both cases, the projected number of nurses is not enough to meet these impending challenges.

Lack of Nurses and Specialized Nurses

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 55 percent of nurses in the workforce are over the age of 50, so a number of retirements are expected within the next decade. A nurse with an online Master of Science in Nursing degree says there are not enough prospective nurses entering the profession to counteract these losses. The baby boomer generational hit, in this case, deals a twin blow, increasing demand while reducing the supply.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that nurses with baccalaureate-level training improve patient outcomes markedly. Many of these highly skilled nurses are needed in specialized settings, but nursing education is facing serious problems.

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the average age of registered nurses has been increasing, with the average nurse being in their forties. The number of nurses reaching retirement, therefore, is increasing to unsustainable levels.

The number of faculty members in nursing programs is declining, and the number of qualified candidates exceeds these programs’ resources. The AACN reported that 79,659 applicants were turned away from nursing schools because of insufficient programs.


Patient care suffers as the shortage of nurses increases. According to multiple surveys, nurses are often stressed and overworked and choose to leave the field, contributing to the field’s 13 percent turnover rate and poor reputation. Patient readmission rates are more prevalent in understaffed units. Hospitals with low nurse-to-patient ratios often face increased mortality rates and medical errors.

Many hospitals are currently trying to adapt to the shortage and attract new nurses by offering sign-on bonuses, especially for in-demand specializations. Salary increases are advertised for specializations suffering the most from the shortage, namely respiratory therapy and intensive care.

One thing that sets the current nurse shortage apart from previous ones is that it is not merely the number of nurses entering the field which falls short. With the rise and diversification of technology in the medical profession, nurses with specific training, skills, and certifications are required to fill an increasing number of openings.


Despite these dismal figures, efforts have been made to tackle these shortages and increase the quality of patient care. For example, policymakers at the John Hopkins Center for Health Policy hope to increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees by 2020 and advocate for specialized nurses with greater control.

Other programs, like the Campaign for Nursing’s Future, aim to increase students’ interest in nursing, attract nurses from abroad and recruit minorities and young men to fill the demographic gap created by nursing’s historical appeal to women in the workforce. These efforts will create a more diverse workforce in the future, encouraging nurses from all groups to contribute their unique skills and backgrounds to the industry. Numerous partnerships between hospitals and schools have already strengthened educational problems.

Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of Nursing, recommends that industry leaders reassess the way they present the industry to potential candidates. Developing career incentives for new nurses, changing the way nursing is presented to young people, and creating patient care models which allow for nurse autonomy will help attract new and specialized nurses to the positions that desperately need them.

With the increasing need for registered nurses, the nursing field will evolve and adapt to these changes by focusing on recruitment, challenging governmental regulations and improving educational programs.

About the Author: Marlena Stoddard is a freelance writer who received her BA from University of Georgia.


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