How the Nursing Shortage is a Win for Travel Nursing
For many years, Americans heard that there was a big shortage of nurses. But is there still a nursing shortage?
“In today’s world, that answer is both yes and no,” says Peter Buerhaus, professor of nursing and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Workforce Studies at Montana State University, Bozeman.
Why is There a Nursing Shortage?
Everyone knows that there are more and more people coming into the health system. And that explosion comes from all the millions of aging Baby Boomers and the thousands and thousands of new people who got health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Buerhaus and fellow researchers have looked into the nursing shortage through the years, and it has improved in many areas but not all. Their recent study results appear in the September issue of Medical Care, the official journal of the American Public Health Association.
“We still project the nation will have a shortage of around 130,000 nurses by 2025, which is by no means a small number. But it’s not the overwhelming shortage that we had once anticipated,” he says.
When Did Nursing Shortages Begin and Why Do Shortages Continue?
During the recession in 2007 and 2008, national initiatives prompted many women and men to enter nursing programs because jobs were plentiful and nursing programs were growing across the country.
The average age of the RN nurse force is 44.4 years old this year. Buerhaus’ research shows that the overall number of registered nurse will increase from about 2.7 million in 2013 to 3.3 million by 2030 – only if new nurses enter the workforce at the current high rates. However, the growth in nursing school enrollment experienced in the 2000s already has leveled off.
“This probably isn’t a significant shortage at all. But regionally and in some markets, there is a big shortage of nurses,” he says. “Many rural areas are where you more likely will find shortages.”
Buerhaus pays attention to the statistics of AMN Healthcare, a national nursing staffing agency service.
“They are having a great year. Where they are the most active is probably highly correlated with shortages. There are shortages in Tulsa, Oklahoma and parts of Texas, California and Florida,” he says.
Another reason shortages could get worse than predicted is that people can’t get into nursing schools. According to a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) titled 2014-2015 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 70,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2014. The reasons were due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors and budget constraints.
“The greatest myth about the nursing shortage is that it is the result of a failure to recruit new individuals into the profession. Not true,” says Deborah Trautman, president /CEO of AACN, headquartered in Washington, D.C. More than 150,000 people entered the workforce as new RNs in 2013 compared to only 68,000 in 2001.
“At AACN, we are most troubled by the shortage of nurses prepared at the baccalaureate and graduate levels since research shows that having enough of these nurses is important to lower patient mortality rates, reducing medication errors and realizing other positive care outcomes,” says Trautman, president /CEO of AACN, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Right now, only 55 percent of the registered nurse population is prepared at the baccalaureate or higher degree level. Faculty shortages at nursing schools across the country are limiting student capacity at a time when the need for professional registered nurses continues to grow.
Does the Shortage Hinder or Hurt Traveling Nurses?
Buerhaus says that the nursing shortage can be a big plus for traveling nurses. Hospitals and clinics sometimes raise their pay scale to attract temporary nurses to fill the vacancies without committing to full-time employees. And when the budgets of any healthcare facility are constrained, it makes economic sense to hire traveling employees because they don’t have to make long-term commitments, he says.
The shortage of nurses in some areas is prominent and growing. In other areas, well-qualified nurses are abundant.
Having too few nurses available to provide care anywhere can impact many people and their ability to access essential services and the quality of care, Trautman states. That’s why nursing organizations, heads of healthcare companies and nursing colleges are working hard to assure that good, qualified and educated nurses are available to help people in all their healthcare needs.