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

By: Kevin P. Allen

There's also a shortage of nursing instructors, since a nurse with an advanced degree can earn tens of thousands of dollars more than a member of the faculty in a nursing school.
There's also a shortage of nursing instructors, since a nurse with an advanced degree can earn tens of thousands of dollars more than a member of the faculty in a nursing school.
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Since the late 1990s, it's largely been an accepted fact that the United States is dealing with a nursing shortage, the severity of which has varied over the years [source: Ostrow]. The industry, for example, received an infusion of workers during the recession, and there was reason for optimism at the outset of 2012 when research indicated that more newly trained nurses were entering the workforce [sources: Courchane; Ostrow]. But even when hopeful signs have emerged, the larger concern -- whether there are and will continue to be enough nurses -- has persisted.

Generally, when a particular career field experiences a shortage of workers, the following questions are asked:


  1. Are the profession's workers paid enough?
  2. Is morale low in this workforce?
  3. Does the public know there's a shortage?

While all those questions are valid, they're not at the heart of the problem in the nursing field. Nurses' pay reflects the significance of the jobs they do, and there is ample interest in nursing thanks to high-profile recruitment efforts that began in the early 2000s [source: Courchane]. There isn't a lack of interest in the field. In fact, there are more people applying to nursing programs than schools can handle [source: Strong]. In addition, nursing is challenging and often stressful, but it's also rewarding.

The primary challenges in nursing have more to do with an aging population, a shortage of faculty at nursing schools and the expected influx of people with health insurance in the U.S. who were previously unable to seek medical care [source: AACN].

Click ahead to learn how our population is changing.


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].

Keep reading. We have lots more information about nursing and the medical field on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. "Nursing Shortage." April 1, 2012. http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-shortage
  • Courchane, Claire. "With Nurse Shortage Looming, America Needs Shot in The Arm." June, 6, 2011. (April 1, 2012) http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jun/6/with-nurse-shortage-looming-america-needs-shot-in-/?page=all
  • Ostrow, Nicole. "Nursing Shortage Is Over in U.S. Until Retirement Glut Hits." March 22, 2012. (April 9, 2012) http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-21/nursing-shortage-in-u-dot-s-dot-is-over-temporarily-researchers-find
  • Rovner, Julie. "Young People Put Dent in Nursing Shortage." Shots. Dec. 5, 2011. (April 1, 2012) http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/12/05/143154898/young-people-put-dent-in-nursing-shortage
  • Strong, Ted. "UVa Dean: Nurse Shortage Tied to Lack of Faculty." March 31, 2012. (April 1, 2012) http://www2.dailyprogress.com/news/2012/mar/31/uva-dean-nurse-shortage-tied-lack-faculty-ar-1809576/