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Nursing Shortages

Nurses have always been a critical part of the healthcare system — they make up the largest population of the health profession. There are approximately 29 million nurses and midwives across the globe, and 3.9 million of those are registered nurses within the United States, according to the World Health Statistics Report.

But today, the U.S. is facing a severe nursing shortage. Read on for a closer look at why the nursing shortage is an issue for Americans, who it affects the most, and how the U.S. can fix it.

Why Is the Nursing Shortage a Problem? 

The nursing shortage has more of a negative impact than some might realize — and it’s having a ripple effect across the entire healthcare system. When hospitals don’t have enough nurses, they must rely on staff who are less qualified to fill the gaps, leading to potential patient complications and critical mistakes.  

What’s worse is the nursing shortage has been linked to higher rates of patient mortality and morbidity. The shortage makes it increasingly difficult for long-term care facilities and hospitals to meet the needs of all patients, especially as the U.S. continues to recover from the pandemic.  

While the American Nurses Association recommends a staffing ratio of 1 nurse for every 4 patients in acute care settings, most hospitals fall far below that goal. Likewise, the recommendation in long-term care facilities is 1 nurse for every 8 patients, but these nurses also often have to provide care for many more patients. 

Who Is Affected Most by the Nursing Shortage? 

Many nurses are burned out, stretched thin, and may not be getting the compensation and benefits they deserve — they’re leaving for new opportunities in different fields. Others are aging out of the profession and opting to retire. Turnover rates are as high as 37%. But demand for nurses is at an all-time high. Why? Hospitals are seeing a surge in patients as the Baby Boomer generation ages, viruses run rampant, and more. 

The shortage of nurses affects patients and their families, as they may not have access to the level of care they need. And the nurses who stay in their roles are affected, too — with fewer colleagues on staff, they’re likely working more days per week and even longer shifts (and feeling even more stressed than they were before). The nursing shortage is overwhelming entire healthcare systems — it’s affecting everyone to some degree.  

How Can We Fix the Nursing Shortage? 

Here are four key areas that healthcare organizations should focus on in an effort to fix the national nursing shortage.  

Employee Retention 

Thinking about how to retain nurses is a great place to start. Just like employees in any other field, nurses need to feel valued and appreciated in their role. Take a closer look at your employee benefits such as family care, education assistance, and more. Better yet, ask them what they want — and need — in order to thrive. 


Create new onboarding strategies or enhance your current program to help new hires feel welcome, learn the ropes faster, get their questions answered, and feel more capable in their role.    

Employee Wellness 

Nurses are burned out; an employee wellness program designed for healthcare professionals can help alleviate some of their stress. This type of program can address everything from finances, to fitness, healthy eating, and mental health. 

Professional Development 

Many nurses want to advance their careers and build new skills. It’s never too late for them to go back to school, but they’ll likely need support in order to do so. Think about adding education assistance to your employee benefits — tuition assistance or reimbursement for programs that fit nurses’ schedules and goals. And keep in mind: their development and new knowledge benefits your organization, too.  

FAQS on Nursing Shortages

Will nurses get paid more in the future? 

As demand for nurses continues to grow and the nursing shortage continues, nursing salaries will likely continue to rise. However, a salary increase is just one factor that nurses consider when they weigh the pros and cons of staying in their current role, organization, or even the profession.  
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