Registered nurses (RN) are at the core of the medical profession, in the US as elsewhere, yet their contributions are often undervalued. It’s true to say that even more than physicians or clinical specialists, nurses are the engine room of the whole healthcare system and that without them, it would swiftly fall apart. However, with a desperate shortage of qualified professionals, this prospect could soon become a reality.
The US healthcare system desperately needs to recruit more nurses, but suitable candidates just aren’t coming forward. The sector needs to do much more both to produce good nurses and attract them into the profession, convincing them not only to join the workforce but also to stay there.
A growing need
Healthcare is America’s largest employer and nursing is the single biggest profession within the sector. Both healthcare and nursing are growing rapidly as an aging population, new health challenges, and technological advances mean both more demand and more ways of meeting the population’s changing healthcare needs. As a result, it’s estimated that the system will require 20,000 new nurses every year over the next five years.
Not enough nurses
Nursing is considered one of the best-paid and most rapidly growing professions in the country. Nevertheless, there are still not enough nurses to go round. One reason is that, along with the rest of the population, our nurses are aging, and many are heading towards retirement. Not enough young, trained individuals are coming in to replace them.
The problem isn’t that people don’t want to be nurses – it’s that there aren’t the facilities to train them. In 2018, US nursing schools turned away over 75,000 qualified applicants. In 2019, the number rose to over 80,000. The reasons were insufficient resources and budget. More money urgently needs to be put into nursing schools, to create more faculties, more classrooms, more instructors, and more clinical provision.
In the meantime, wider availability and awareness of online courses could help increase the number of fully qualified applicants. The debate over DNP vs PhD in nursingobscures the fact that both are equally valuable, representing the highest standard of qualification. A PhD is more research-focused, while a DNP is more practice-focused, but both are needed in today’s nursing world, and which to choose depends on your goals, personality and motivations.
Better work-life balance
It’s not just a question of training up more nurses, however. The job has to be made more attractive to these highly-skilled, well-qualified individuals. Nursing has a notoriously high turnover, with 27.6% of new nurses quitting the profession within a year. Although they can expect very competitive salaries, it is the poor work-life balance that causes many to seek work in other sectors.
Nurses commonly complain of being overworked and overstressed. To some degree, this is a result of the shortage, and if more nurses are recruited, the job will become easier. However, greater flexibility, shorter shifts, and generally better working conditions would all massively improve recruitment.
Nurses feel undervalued even though they are in great demand and one of our most essential professions. It’s vital that we offer better opportunities for training and more incentives to stay in the job if we want to keep the US healthcare system functioning in the years to come.