Why the Nurse Shortage?

Hospitals will need 116,000 registered nurses to fill empty positions in the United States, which results in a vacancy rate of 8.1 percent, according to "The 2007 State of American’s Hospitals-Taking the Pulse" by the American Hospital Association. One of the reasons for the shortage may be that too many nurses are leaving the profession and not enough are entering it.

In a 2008 study, "Nurses Working Outside of Nursing," 4.2 percent of the 2.9 million registered nurses in the United States, were working in non-nursing employment and 12.1 percent were not working in any employment whatsoever. When asked why they quit the nursing profession, more than 27 percent of people said they quit due to "nurse burnout" or a stressful work environment, 27 percent said it was physical demands, 20 percent said inadequate staffing in hospitals, and 20 percent said inconvenient scheduling. The shortage is making it harder for those who do stay. In a 2005 study, “Is the Shortage of Hospital RNs Getting Better or Worse?” of the nurses surveyed, 98 percent saw the shortage as a problem in the future that would increase the stress on nurses, 93 percent said it would lower the quality of patient care, and 93 percent believed it would eventually cause more nurses to leave the profession.

It also seems as if there are not enough people entering the profession. This is not because no one is interested in pursuing a nursing career, but because they are unable to receive the education in order to do so. In their 2009-2010 annual survey, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that 54,991 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs largely due to a lack of faculty. In the 2009-2010 academic year, the national faculty vacancy rate was at 6.6 percent for nursing schools offering baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs, reported the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in their study "Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions for Academic Year 2009-2010." It was reported that additional full-time faculty were not hired for reasons such as insufficient funds to hire new faculty, inability to recruit qualified faculty because of job competition, and lack of qualified applicants in the geographical area. When it come to being able to recruit and retain faculty, nursing schools faced critical issues, 32 percent had problems with noncompetitive salaries, 30.3 percent were faced with a limited pool of doctorally prepared faculty, and 16.5 percent had problems finding faculty with the right mix of specialties.

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