How ER Nurses Work

The Workforce
"What, me retire? Fat chance!"
"What, me retire? Fat chance!"
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In 2001, a federal study predicted a nursing shortage by 2010 and a severe shortage by 2020. Nursing shortages occur on a cyclical basis, but the fear was that this time would be different and the shortfalls might be permanent. The authors outlined numerous contributing factors: increasing demand for nurses, an aging workforce, a wider variety of professional options for younger people and falling enrollment in nursing programs [source: Schriver].

While the nursing profession in particular, and the medical community in general, fretted about the looming crisis, prospective nurses saw opportunities — they certainly wouldn't have any difficulty getting hired, and they would be able to pick and choose the positions they wanted.

In 2005, psychologist Philip Tetlock demonstrated in his book "Expert Political Judgment" that, in general, when experts try to predict the future, their predictions tend to be wrong as often as they're right. This turned out to be the case with the feared nursing shortage. Instead of a shortfall, we have a glut. As of September 2014, there were 500,000 morenurses than we expected to have back in 2001 [source: Staiger et al.]. Why? For one thing, enrollment increased. Responding to the gloomy forecast, and anticipating easy employment, more students entered nursing programs — but not enough to explain the glut. The big reason was that older nurses weren't retiring as expected.

As many baby boomers turned 65, they just kept working. It turns out that this phenomenon isn't limited to the nursing profession; plenty of boomers aren't ready to close out their careers yet. With longer life expectancies and better health outlooks, many are choosing to keep on trucking. Some might be trying to augment their eventual retirement funds, while some might still be putting kids through college, and others might simply love their job too much to give it up.

But they will have to retire eventually, and with predictions that the available RN jobs will jump from 2.7 million in 2012 to 3.2 million in 2022, the numbers can't be fudged [source: U.S. Department of Labor]. There will be a nursing shortage in the coming years. It's not a question of if, just when.

Author's Note: How ER Nurses Work

In researching this article I came across the story of a New York City emergency nurse named Lindsey Hallen who was preparing to go to into the Ebola zone in Africa. Offered a last-minute choice between a post as a safety instructor in Liberia or a front-line position in Sierra Leone, she hesitated only briefly before choosing the more dangerous job. As her father remarked, she has the personality of a firefighter who runs into a burning building as everybody else runs out. Good thing such people exist.

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