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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Debating the Nursing Shortage

Published August 5, 2010 9:31 AM by Gail Guterl

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.


It's horrible what is happening to nursing carriers, especially RNs - there is no job security, RNs are being fired on a whim. There is no organization that protects nurses of their rights. This is the worst time for nurses in the USA. Being used and got rid of - by corporations. And this is after so many years of education, tons of student loans. This is pure evil. Being treated worse than slaves. It's better to leave this country all together as nobody cares for nurses here. In other countries the living cost is less and is easy to survive. The living costs in the USA are skyrocket high and the survival is possible only with  high paying jobs - and it was possible till the present time - when there is no jobs, no security, nurses can't find jobs while must pay huge student


Employers create nursing shortage by making one nurse to take care of 20-40 patients - the patients who are 3 days post surgeries! To profit at expense of nurses - the corporations hire bare minimum nurses to care for the patients. And no one cares, no one steps in, like the government, to change the working conditions for nurses. This is pure evil!

The colleges and universities keep lying about the real reason of nursing shortages - to mislead students into nursing - RN, BSN! Pure naive students take more student loans - just to and up without jobs and in debts. But universities and colleges don't care - as long as they can get the money. This is pure evil!

Continuing education for RNs is a joke in this time as it requires to get more debts (student loans)  with no guarantee of a job after graduation.

Rose, RN November 23, 2010 10:12 AM
Cleveland OH

Why not require a minimum of a BSN to become a Registered Nurse? They are pushing for NP's to have a Doctorate because a MSN is not good enough.

Robert Reeves, Cardiovascular - APRN-BC August 27, 2010 8:25 PM
middle TN

 Nursing used to eat their young now we just abort them.            New graduates from Assoc. degree program who have passed the boards and are liscened RN need not apply for   RN jobs because they have no BSN.  If that be the trend then shouldn't BSN be a reguirement for RN. An RN is a terrible     thing to waste.

connie stevenson, oncology - RNoncology, DCMH August 24, 2010 1:05 PM
Upper Darby PA

what about us older nurses who have been laid off, forced into a resignation( by our nursing management) or fired- on the whim of nursing administrations? our numbers are not counted because traditionally nursing is a recession proof profession(Ha, Ha). When a healthcare institution  want to get rid of a nurse, they make her/his life miserable(by nuring management who deliberately bully/nit-pick/harass, instead of managers using their leadership skills - inservices) to force a resignation or use the same tactitics to fire , thus destroying the nurses career just because they have a glut of nursing applicants on their desk. A resignation or firing disqualifies that nurse from unemployment and there for is lost theough the cracks and not counting in anyones statistics( dept of labor or nursing researchers in addition to the unexpected lost of income) I had 2 jobs because of a bankruptcy court order- the only position I could find after a 8 month termination( depleated all my savings to support myself and 2 daughters and is why the bankruptcy came about) was a per deim(which I held for 18 months- was cancelled most of the time  "no census"exactly like what agency is going through now) In addition I got a temporary/ 6 month grant funded position @ my state dept of health and was laid off from that in June 2010, when the per deim manager at this hospital found out about my temp position ( at the dept of health)she fired me but not before she called me/harassed me on a weekly basis, at the other job-   I am now unemployed- an RN with 30 yrs hospital experience . The manager from the hospital per deim is trying to prevent me from collecting my entitled unemployment from my lay off- she made a false accusation to the unemployment- that "I may have quit my job unattributable to the work" and "may be going to school"I was sent a COBRA paper from the per deim hospital position(which I had no health bene's from anyway) that stated I was "INVOLUNTARY" terminated- and going back to any school is not an option- if I can't pay my mortages and bankruptcy payment how can I afford tuition? Fact: unemployment is an insurance the hospital/company pays into( like car insurance) to many accidents( terminations.  Forced resignations, not thu their own fault) their rates go up which is why when the hospital want to get rid of a nurse they start picking the nurse apart- asking a per deim to come in @ hours they know he/she is commited elsewhere) This is why I am leaving nursing- I need a stable work enviornment and and a stable income- nursing has cost my family too much- a secure roof over their head- I am a single mom.

karen, none - RN, none August 13, 2010 12:56 PM
Mt Holly NJ

That's why continuing education options that don't involve leaving your current position are becoming so populuar.  Online nursing degrees like LPN to BSN thru Indiana State University, or RN to BSN degrees from multiple universities and RN to MSN degrees from Regis U.  

Shane August 10, 2010 11:42 AM
Indianapolis IN

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