Debating the Nursing Shortage
Sometimes the right thing to do feels counterintuitive. When your car hits an icy patch and begins to spin, you automatically want to hit the brakes and steer away from the direction the car is sliding. That instinct is exactly opposite what experts recommend: Tap the brakes and steer into the slide to maintain control.
The Tri-Council for Nursing, an alliance of four autonomous nursing organizations--American Nurses Association, National League for Nursing, American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the American Organization of Nurse Executives--feels the nation is facing a similar problem regarding the nursing shortage. Despite statistics stating there is a glut of nurses on the market today, Tri-Council is questioning those statistics and advocating schools continue to produce nurses. Based on data collected by noted nurse workforce researcher Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, Tri-Council agrees there will be a severe shortage of nurses over the next 15 years.
In a recent statement, Tri-Council commented it believes a study by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. (EMSI) on the current supply of nurses is inaccurate. The study uses information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), among other sources, showing an overproduction of nurses in all states except Nevada and Alaska. They say IPEDS data includes not only RN graduates, but LPN, RN-to-baccalaureate, master's, doctoral and certificate program graduates. "Those graduates are not new RNs and should not be included in the supply total," according to a Tri-Council statement issued June 9.
The alliance organization believes it makes more sense to base nurse supply predictions on the number of nurses who have passed the NCLEX exam. "In 2009, 147,812 graduates passed the NCLEX. This supply figure is almost 43,000 less than the supply figure used by EMSI (190,615)," Tri-Council maintains.
Tri-Council points out EMSI focused only on nurses entering the profession and didn't consider those who are leaving nursing. "Data from the latest National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses [done by Health Resources and Services Administration this year] indicate nearly 73,000 RNs leave the profession annually due to retirement, child-rearing, returning to school, career change, death, or for other reasons," the Tri-Council statement points out. They stress that although 444,668 nurses received their license from 2004-08, the U.S. nurse workforce grew only by 153,806 in that time.
So in the final analysis, Tri-Council says:
- don't reduce nurse education programs, and
- existing nurses should continue their education.
I don't envy Tri-Council their message. We at ADVANCE for Nurses have heard from numerous new nurses, many who left lucrative careers to answer a call to nursing, went back to school, graduated and can't find jobs. Adding to that, they now have substantial debt for nursing school tuition.
It makes good sense to think to the future, but with hospitals just not hiring, what are new graduates to do? And how do you leave your job to go back to school and further your nursing education not knowing if there will be job to come back to?
Tri-Council acknowledges these are tough times. "Given the fluctuations in the economy, no one can accurately project how long the nation will take to recover and exactly when old workforce patterns may re-emerge," the council stated. "…The changing characteristics of employment options for new nurses is causing frustration to many new graduates who expected a different occupational outlook…."
The message is tough and, yes, in today's climate it seems counterintuitive. It may take a while to learn to steer into the slide.