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Why Is this Important?

America’s 3 million nurses currently make up the largest segment of the health-care workforce, and nursing is currently already one of the fastest-growing occupations in the entire country. Despite these large statistics and projected growth, there will still be a large demand for nurses in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 million vacancies will emerge for registered nurses by 2022. Some of this growth can be attributed to an increase in preventive care, growing rates of chronic conditions – such as diabetes and obesity, along with more demand for healthcare services for the baby-boomer population as they live longer than previous generations.

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The question then becomes, what can be done to help alleviate this potential crisis? What data exists that can be leveraged to give educational and medical institutions a roadmap to how they can work to fix what appears to be a potentially catastrophic issue? Let's dive in to the numbers and see what story they tell, and hopefully a story will appear that can be used by universities, hospitals, doctor's offices, and nursing homes that will solidify the nursing profession to ensure everyone who needs care will be served.

The Shortage

The chart below show the large gap in the amount of potential jobs in the nursing work force compared with the average number of students graduating college with their nursing degrees. As you can see, there is quite the disparity. Obviously not all the jobs available are reserved for recent graduates, so many of them are most likely filled by experienced nurses. However, what will happen as this trend continues with more and more nursing jobs becoming available, while a large amount of existing nurses begin reaching the age of retirement and exit the workforce themselves? With more than 500,000 seasoned RNs anticipated to retire by 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need to produce 1.2 million new Registered Nurses to replace those retirees, and avoid a nursing shortage. By 2025, the shortfall is expected to be “more than twice as large as any nurse shortage experienced since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s,” a team of Vanderbilt University nursing researchers wrote in a 2009 paper on the issue.

The Chicken or the Egg?

In the chart below, you can see how the estimated numbers for the amount of nurses graduating actually outweigh the estimates for the amount of nurses that will be retiring. From this data one can derive that it is not actually the large amount of nurses expected to retire that will be the root cause of the potential crisis, but rather the growing demand for additional nurse care due to other reasons. With the baby-boomer population continuing to live longer than previous generations, more emphasis on preventative care beginning at younger ages, and and increase in preventable diseases such as diabetes and obesity, it is clear that it will be up to the growing number of nursing graduates to help teach and lead the way. These future potential nurses need to be motivated to come in to the profession in the first place, and have great education and training once they get there.

For an inside view, here is a discussion with Amanda Simonton, a Registered Nurse with a BSN from The University of Texas at Austin who is also currently enrolled as a graduate student there working on a Master of Science in Nursing as a Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, while also studying to receive her Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing in Addiction Prevention and Treatment:

Other Countries

So how many nursing graduates are coming from other countries around the world? Some of the major countries around the United States and abroad compare similarly to the US in nursing graduates per year, while others - including our neighbors to the South, have significantly lower graduation rates. The graph (based on 2015 statistics) and table below show the amount of average graduating nursing students per year per every 100,000 inhabitants within that country.

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Baby Boomers

Learn more at The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers, by James R Knickman and Emily K Snell.