The popularity of nursing is on the rise. Broad and varied job opportunities, competitive salaries and the opportunity to help others are all attractive aspects of nursing. Despite the appeal of a nursing degree, there is a shortage of nurses in the United States. This shortage negatively impacts nurses, patients and healthcare organizations. This calls for prompt action to increase the nursing population.
The Current Nursing Shortage
Like the populations in almost every state, the nationwide nursing shortage affects the citizens of Maine.
For starters, many members of the nursing profession are nearing retirement age. The Center for Health Affairs reports that 30 to 50% of registered nurses are above age 55, according to Bangor Daily News. While the graduating rate for nurses is on the rise, it is offset by the large population of nurses who are retiring or are close to retirement.
The good news is that enrollment in nursing programs is on the upswing and the projected shortage has been decreased recently. But even with more registered nurses joining the ranks, the Maine Nursing Action Coalition projects that the state will be short 2,700 nurses in 2025.
Maine schools of nursing have been working to solve the issue by increasing the number of graduates – from about 650 new graduates to 800 graduates from 2015 to 2018. However, the lack of faculty and nursing labs still presents a challenge. In fact, qualified candidates have been rejected because the resources weren't available to train them. Without the means to prepare more nursing students, meeting the need for nurses will continue to be difficult.
Another facet of the problem is the increased demand for health services. Growing numbers of insured patients and better understanding of preventive care has resulted in more patients seeking treatment. Supplemental Health Care notes that the increased demand for nurses will account for roughly 40% of nurses needed in 2024.
When There Aren't Enough Nurses
The growing lack of nurses has significant impact on nurse well-being, patient outcomes and hospital bottom lines. The need for a remedy is as urgent as it is apparent.
The nursing shortage has led to longer shifts and higher patient-to-nurse ratios. Not only does this undermine the quality of patient care, it can also cause fatigue, injury and stress. All of these factors contribute to nurse burnout.
Patient Safety Network remarks that nurses often catch early indicators of complications, stopping deteriorating health conditions and helping save lives. Since nurses spend a great deal of time with patients and interface with other members in the care team, they are absolutely vital to successful patient care. BMJ Journals recognizes that high patient-to-nurse ratios have a direct impact on hospital readmissions.
One of the long-term effects of understaffing is the issue of nurse departures caused by the heavy workload and resultant stress. Not only does this exacerbate the nursing shortage, but it causes other problems. For instance, nurse turnover is expensive for hospitals. Turnover cost per nurse is over $44,000, which adds up in hospitals whose average is above 16% turnover annually, notes a Supplemental Health Care blog.
Boosting the Nurse Population
While technical training should not be compromised, measures can be taken to make nursing degrees more accessible. If a lack of faculty and campus facilities is driving the rejection of qualified nursing students, other educational approaches can open the floodgates for training. Class attendance via Skype and placement in regional hospitals are just two possible means to help graduate more students despite current limitations.
Training programs and nurse staffing recruiters may benefit from expanding their reach. Targeting new demographic groups can help nurture more would-be nurses. For instance, minorities and foreign-born students are an underutilized resource with the potential to be great nurses. Outreach to these communities would be a wise investment in the future.
Avant suggests incentivizing nursing studies. Signing bonuses, tuition reimbursements and scholarships boost the appeal of a nursing degree. Making the education more affordable as well as assisting in job placement will make a nursing career more attainable and appealing for those who need a little push.
Recruitment from other states may also be necessary to satisfy the demand for nurses in Maine. Relocation from out of state to begin a lucrative and satisfying career in nursing holds appeal for some potential recruits.
The nursing shortage requires a multifaceted, proactive response to keep pace with staffing demands and patient needs both in the immediate and foreseeable future. The solutions are out there — all that is required is the will and determination to meet the challenges and overcome them. Better health outcomes for patients, more affordable healthcare and increased job satisfaction await.
Learn more about the UMFK online RN to BSN program.
Sources:Avant Healthcare Professionals: Solutions to the Nursing Shortage for Chief Nursing Officers in 2019
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