Is there a nursing shortage or not?

Nursing-bandaidApparently, it depends on who you ask these days.

According to some articles, there are 100,000 registered nursing positions currently open at hospitals across the country and new grads are confident in their job search.

Other articles are suggesting that the shortage is still so drastic that the only way to solve it is through legislation and importing internationally trained nurses.

But then there was this story from the Washington Post reporting that the current economy has somewhat lessened the nations shortage of healthcare professionals.

The article suggests that many nurses are postponing retirement or returning to the workforce for financial reasons. Combine this with the other economic factors negatively affecting the healthcare staffing industry and suddenly there are fewer available jobs.

The article also points to low vacancy rates at hospitals in certain regions, although this only provides us with a snapshot of one particular area of the country.

So what gives?  Is the economy affecting the shortage or not?

My take is that, although some regions are experiencing a glut and there is certainly a slow down across the board, the shortage is still very real.  Perhaps the Washington Post was just looking for interesting headlines but I think it’s fair to say that most people believe the economy will turn around and when it does, the shortage will still be here.

The biggest issue still seems to be getting new nurses into the workforce.  The Washington Post article also speaks to this, citing the average age, high educational requirements and relatively low compensation for nursing school instructors as being a major barrier for getting more students in and through these programs.  Until this changes, it seems that nothing will really resolve the shortage – not even the economy.

What's your take? Is the economy affecting jobs for healthcare professionals in your region?

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8 thoughts on “Is there a nursing shortage or not?

  1. Hey Jason
    I’ve been asking your question “is there a nursing shortage” everywhere from Minnesota to New York this week and am getting a full range of answers.
    Only common denominator is that hospitals and clinics are under extreme budget pressure due to lower census etc so only “cost reduction” messages are working for recruiters.
    What does “shortage” mean? In a free economy there is no such thing as a shortage, just supply and demand turbulence. So no surprise that some are stepping up to the challenges.
    gregg dourgarian

  2. Thanks for stopping by Greg!
    Yes, it’s always an interesting question. And even more interesting is how the question/answer is provided depending on the context, audience and presenter.
    Agreed that technically, there is no “shortage” – only supply/demand. But I don’t know that we have a “free” economy. Especially these days.

  3. I am an male RN with a bachelor’s degree in Nursing. I’ve applied to nearly 250 jobs, and been rejected 100% of the time. Every job demands 1 year or more of work experience, why? Because there is a glut of nurses now. Here’s my take:
    1) Nursing never had a shortage, it simply couldn’t meet scheduling demands (i.e. vacancy rates were high) and its hard and not always well respected.
    2) The economic crisis drove many partly retired nurses back into nursing. (Anyone that needed an extra few dollars could EASILY pick up extra hours working contingency)
    3) every hospital has a different story, but in general they are not willing to hire new grads because on a very localized/managerial level….manager want experienced staff. There is no central plan to draw in new-grads, they’ve always just gotten experience cuz the demand for ANY nurse was huge. Now, nurses are a dime-a-dozen for staff/unit jobs.
    4) Many new-grad nurses struggle and fail to get jobs because hospitals don’t want to hire (if possible) and managers/staffing sources have a HUGE number of applicants (UM hospital nurse recruiter once told me each open RN job had an average of more than 120 applicants in the end of 2009).
    5) The big losers are the patients, because hospitals can increase workload on existing staff, and the “returning older workforce” probably won’t stay in the floor/staff-nursing business for along time. So the next biggest losers are new-graduate nurses that are getting rejected by the droves. Some new grads find jobs, but often times they are already employed in institutions (I know at least 3 different hospital systems that now have a specific “only hire from within” policy that applies to nurses).
    If there is a shortage, few people are willing to give new grads their first year of “training work experience”. So basically the hospitals are very short-sighted, and the nursing profession is definitely not doing much to help new-grad nurses get jobs (so don’t be surprised if a bunch of people with nursing degrees quit nursing because they realize the so-called nursing shortage only applies to specialties and unit-manager jobs that require prior experience.
    As a side note, if anybody wants to give advise, I would listen, but PLEASE do not tell new-grads to be more open minded and work midnights…. or consider relocation. The vast majority of the open jobs are midnight shifts, I often don’t even get a chance to apply for a day-shift anyway……IF you want to suggest relocation PLEASE specifically demonstrate that you know XYZ place is hiring. I have heard a million people allude to that “some regions” have experienced an easing of the shortage, but they never can tell you “but in XYZ, they will definitely take you”. Oh yes, and I’ve applied to at least 20 local nursing homes and they turned me down as well.

  4. In resonse to J, nurses are not a dime a dozen. The literature contains the statistics on the nursing shortage and the shortage is expected to worsen as the baby boomers retire and more Americans gain access to health care. A main driver of the nursing shortage is the shortage of nurse educators which delays nursing student applicants admission and places the students on 1 to 2 year wait lists. The recession gave nursing a slight feeling of relief as nurses of laid off spouses picked up extra shifts to maintain financial stability for their household and/or nurses delayed retirement for a bit until the economy picked up. However, working in the nurse staffing industry since 2006 I can personally say that hospitals around the country feel the nursing shortage acutely every day and every night~SR

  5. You know what I think it is?
    I think whoever keeps perpetuating the nursing shortage myth, is ignorant of what a nursing position is. The media likes to say “there are 120K nursing positions open”, but what they don’t tell you, is that what they refer to as a nursing position, is actually a CNA or MA or LVN position, but everyone thinks its RN positions, and thinks there are all these RN positions available, when there are not.
    It doesn’t help that all these new nursing schools keep opening up, and the existing schools keep admitting more and more students.
    and don’t even get me started on the hospitals hiring foreign nurses in order to lower wages for Americans.

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