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New Research Projects Growing Nursing Shortage

Mar. 25, 2008, 2:13 PM

The United States health care system needs to brace for a severe shortage of nurses, according to findings by Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Douglas Staiger, Ph.D., from Dartmouth University, and David Auerbach, Ph.D., of the Congressional Budget Office.

“It is a matter of supply and demand in a profession that is the front line of our health care system,” said Buerhaus. “While there have been some notable and important improvements, our data shows that we have in no way solved this emerging long-term problem.”

In “The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends and Implications,” the authors point out that demand for registered nurses (RNs) is expected to continue to grow at 2 percent to 3 percent per year, as it has done for the past four decades, while the supply of RNs is expected to grow very little as large numbers of nurses begin to retire. An increased deficit of the supply of nurses is expected to begin in 2015, grow to an estimated 285,000 full-time nurses in 2020, and reach 500,000 (16 percent) by 2025.

The authors make recommendations to policy makers in both the short- and long-term.

Transition strategies are intended to help endure future shortages in the least costly way while assuring patients have high quality care. These include adopting more technology among nurses, accommodating an older workforce and expanding nursing education opportunities. The authors’ long-run strategies focus on how to change the long-term growth rates for the nursing work force, such as removing barriers associated with educating more men and reinforcing pay-for-performance systems.

The current nursing shortage began in 1998 and has continued for a decade, making it the longest lasting nursing shortage in the past 50 years. Inadequate nurse staffing in hospitals is associated with reductions in hospital bed capacity, delays in the timeliness of patient care, longer length of stay by patients, interruptions in care delivery processes, and increased risk of adverse patient outcomes including mortality.

“The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends and Implications” is available at, Barnes and Noble and directly from Barlett Publishers.

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