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Why is there such a shortage of nurses in the medical field?

Factors Behind the Shortage

The causes of the nursing shortage can largely be divided into issues of population makeup, educational challenges and changes in the health care system.

The boom in Boomers: As people age they need more medical care, and a huge portion of Americans known as Baby Boomers are beginning to enter their later years. But it's not just the age of potential patients that's increasing. The median age of nurses is also on the rise. Fifty-somethings make up the largest category of nurses, and the median age of the entire field is 46 [sources: AACN; Ostrow]. Not only are more nurses needed to deal with the onslaught of patients, but replacement nurses will soon have to fill the jobs of their retiring colleagues.

Not enough teachers: Prospective nurses are applying to schools in large numbers but, unfortunately, many of them have been getting turned away because of a lack of faculty at those schools [source: Strong]. Again, part of the problem is that professors are entering retirement. But there's also a financial component. There's more incentive to become an actual nurse than a professor of nursing. A nurse with an advanced degree can earn tens of thousands of dollars more than a member of the faculty in a nursing school [source: Strong]. Efforts to improve pay and increase grant monies to schools to hire more faculty are beginning to bear fruit [source: Strong].

More insured Americans: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- a signature piece of President Barack Obama's administration -- assured that more than 30 million Americans without health insurance would have that care by 2014. The nursing profession has had to adjust to prepare for those potential patients [source: AACN].

Thanks to marketing campaigns to attract nursing students, accelerated degree programs and an increase in monies available to nursing schools, concerns about the nursing shortage were lessened at the onset of 2012 [source: Rovner]. Still, veteran nurses are concerned that if the perception of a nursing surplus begins to spread, then the programs that are helping to alleviate the problem will be removed [source: Strong].

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