Patients feel sting of nurse shortageWritten by Scott McKimmy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
What began as a boom 75 years ago may echo as a distress signal for the medical industry as a growing number of patients conflicts with a shortfall of qualified nurses to care for them.
Baby boomers approaching retirement have flooded the market because of increased life expectancy and greater medical demands brought on by more pronounced and complex conditions that require advanced care. The nation and the world are experiencing a pinch in filling nursing positions at hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical-care facilities.
A wide range of other causes further complicates the dilemma, according to Jeri Milstead, Ph.D., a registered nurse and dean of the College of Nursing at Medical University of Ohio at Toledo. She said the multifold circumstances leading to the shortage includes the “graying of the nursing community,” advanced technology and broad career opportunities in health care.
But the single most-leading cause lies in the health care educational system, she said.
“There are thousands of nursing students turned away from nursing schools because, as bad as the nurse shortage is, the faculty shortage is worse,” Milstead said. “The national average age for nurse faculty is 51, which is higher than the average age for nurses.”
Much of her data came from studies by Peter I. Buerhaus, Ph.D., registered nurse and senior associate dean for research at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in Nashville, Tenn. Of the 2.7 million registered nurses in the United States, 80 percent to 85 percent serve the work force, which translates into about 139,000 vacancies in nursing. By 2020, the shortage will rise to 800,000 nurses nationwide.
The problem could be adequately addressed today, if nursing schools could accept the overflow of qualified applicants, Milstead said. A survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, an organization that represents more than 500 domestic nursing programs, reported 32,797 potential nursing students were locked out of classrooms in 2004 because of limited faculty.
MUO accepted 175 students last year of the roughly 400 to 600 students collectively enrolled in pre-nursing for the first two years of four-year programs at the UT and BGSU. Students then transfer to MUO in their junior year to complete the program.
The bottleneck remained plugged again at the start of the 2005-06 academic year.
“We had probably 50 to 75 very well-qualified students that we had to turn away this year,” Milstead said.
The health-care industry has turned to recruiters to fill vacancies, creating a seller’s market for nurses. Jo Lewton, operations manager for Diversified Medical Staffing in Maumee, said the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis determines a shortage of 4,916 nurses in Ohio. By 2020, the agency expects the figure to be 31,900.
“We are getting orders on a daily basis. I probably get approximately 100 orders a day for nursing staffs throughout the state of Ohio,” Lewton said. “As far as supply, it is trickling in, but it is not at the level it needs to be.”
In response, DMS offers “great packages” with paid benefits, sign-on bonuses, flexible schedules and other options to entice recruitment. Lewton said her company also works to facilitate the transfer of certification for licenses from other states — reciprocity agreements -— to draw from a larger pool of qualified personnel. A heavy emphasis on advertisement for available nursing positions reaches potential employees and contract workers through media sources and word of mouth, the most effective means, according to Lewton.
Additional recruitment efforts focus on veteran nurses who have retired or chose to pursue careers outside of nursing.
“We’re also helping with continuing education, paying them based off their experience level and keeping it competitive with the nurses coming out now,” she said. “You obviously don’t want to pay [new nurses] more than a nurse that has 20 years’ experience.”