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Important Nursing Shortage Statistics

by Carson-Newman … on June 20, 2020
Registered nurse filling out paperwork in a hospital room

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Carson-Newman University is here to support and equip those who are feeling called to join the mission of health care. With 2020 being recognized as the "Year of the Nurse" by the World Health Organization, nurses are foundational to improving lives in their communities and beyond.

Nursing shortage statistics today reveal that the United States is facing significant gaps in nurse staffing, not only today, but for decades to come. 

By 2030, the nursing shortage is expected to increase by 24.8 percent, meaning that 3.6 million nurses will be needed. The cause of this shortage and the effect it will have on society are both complex. 

For those considering advanced degrees in nursing, we've compiled everything you should know about nursing shortage statistics and facts that will impact your career as a nurse.

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Registered nurse carrying a clipboard

What is the Cause of Today's Nursing Shortage Statistics?

Several causes have been linked to the current and future shortage of nurses, including: 

Combined with the increasing demand from infectious diseases, these issues are putting pressure on medical teams nationwide, and the complexity of these problems means that the current nursing shortage statistics will linger for a while longer.

Registered nurse looking out of a hospital window

Why Are Nursing Shortage Statistics Important to Understand?

It's estimated that around one million RNs are currently over the age of 50. 

This means that roughly one-third of the nation's nursing workforce will retire in the next decade or two, and a new generation of RNs must fill vacant roles. 

Many sources shed light on the occupational impact of nursing shortage statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists nursing among the top occupations in terms of job growth.

The BLS expects the nursing workforce to grow from 2.9 million in 2016 to 3.4 million in 2026, an increase of 15 percent over just 10 years. It also projects the need for an additional 203,700 new RNs each year through 2026 in order to fill new positions and replace retiring nurses.

Vanderbilt University adds that the impending nursing shortage will be more severe by 2025 with shortfalls not seen since the mid-1960s when Medicare and Medicaid were first introduced.

Registered nurse in green scrubs standing in a hospital corridor

How Are Nursing Shortage Statistics Affecting RNs?

Over the last several years, various studies have brought attention to the impact of nursing shortage statistics on current RNs. For example:

Readmission Rates

Researchers observed that higher hospital patient loads per RN were associated with approximately 20 percent higher readmission rates. Specifically, when more than four patients were assigned to one RN in pediatric hospitals, the likelihood of readmissions increased significantly.

Rates of Infection

A startling connection was made between high patient-to-nurse ratios/nurse burnout and an increase of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). Studies showed that a decrease of nurse fatigue, or nurse burnout, from 30 percent down to 10 percent could prevent over 4,000 HAIs in one state alone.

Hospital Stays

Another interesting observation of nursing shortage statistics was the recent insight into the length of time patients stay at the hospital. All things considered, having too few nurses result in longer hospital stays for patients and higher cost for hospitals.

Costs such as additional surgical procedures, more diagnostic testing, more use of expensive drugs and supplies, more days of intensive care, and longer lengths of stay, in addition to pain and suffering for patients, are all related to nursing burnout. The same study showed that higher nurse-resourced hospitals admitted 40 percent fewer patients.

Mortality Rates

Nurse burnout can come with severe repercussions for their patients and patients' families as well. In hospitals with a poor working environment for their nurses, the survival rate of patients was 16 percent lower than hospitals with a healthy nursing working environment.

Another recent study discovered that "exposure to as little as one day of high workload/staffing ratios is associated with a substantially increased risk of death in critically ill patients." 

Male nurse making notes at a desk with his female colleague behind him

What Should RNs Know About the Current Nursing Shortage Statistics?

Though the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) confirmed an almost 4 percent enrollment increase in entry-level college nursing programs in recent years, there's still room for growth. Current nursing shortage statistics indicate the need for more nurse faculty, researchers, and primary care providers. 

According to the AACN's report on "2018-2019 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing," U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 75,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs due to several reasons, including:

  • Shortages of faculty
  • Clinical sites
  • Classroom space
  • Clinical preceptors
  • Budget constraints 

In fact, around 66 percent of the nursing schools that participated in the report attributed a shortage of faculty and/or clinical preceptors as a reason why some qualified applicants could not be admitted into educational programs.

Health care workers and nurses going about their day in a hospital

What Can Help Address the Nursing Shortage?

Nursing shortage statistics demonstrate several complex problems, but many experts in the field are working to implement solutions. 

One initiative began several years ago — AACN announced that its NursingCAS, the nation's leading application service for RN programs, would begin including graduate programs.

AACN's NursingCAS, a centralized application service, was created to ensure that vacant seats in nursing schools were filled to their greatest extent in order to better meet the need for nurses and nursing studies faculty. 

For instance, in 2018 more than 49,000 vacant seats were identified in bachelor's and graduate nursing programs. NursingCAS is an efficient solution for filling these seats and maximizing each school's educational capacity.

Another well-known program launched to counteract the industry's nursing shortage statistics is Campaign for Nursing's Future. 

Conceived in the early 2000s by Johnson & Johnson, this multimedia initiative works tirelessly to promote careers in nursing and to elevate public perception of the nursing field.

Since the program's inception, millions of dollars have been invested in television commercials, a recruitment video, a website, brochures, and other encouraging visuals and empowering messages. 

A group of smiling health care workers

How Can Nurses and Nurse Practitioners Help Combat the Nursing Shortage?

Nursing shortage statistics Here are a few ways in which FNPs are currently working to counteract the nursing shortage.

Serving as a Preceptor

If the idea of teaching is appealing to you, consider serving as a preceptor to help younger nurses handle the stresses of today's healthcare environment.

Education serves as the foundation to improve efficiency. As a preceptor, you will have the opportunity to combine your passion for patient care with the ability to pass on your knowledge to other nurses. Nurse educators are essential in making sure future nurses are equipped to serve in a world that needs them.

Broadening Your Impact as an FNP

Similar to what we see with today's nursing shortage statistics, the healthcare industry is also experiencing a shortage of primary care physicians nationwide. 

By the year 2032, the U.S. will see a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians. As a result, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are stepping in to help bridge the gap in primary care.

FNPs are advanced practice registered nurses who are trained to deliver holistic care to patients across their lifespan. In many states, their roles are completely autonomous and they share many of the same responsibilities as physicians.

The demand for nurse practitioners, in general, is expected to grow 26 percent within the next eight years, much faster than average. FNPs are particularly valued for their ability to treat patients of any age. 

Smiling nurse practitioner in a white coat talking to her patient

Start Your Journey as an FNP

Today's nursing shortage statistics show the need for trained nursing professionals who are equipped to handle modern challenges.

Carson-Newman University's online MSN-FNP program is flexibly designed for working nurses who want to advance their careers and achieve greater practice autonomy. Our students enjoy many benefits including:

  • Small class sizes to encourage an intimate online learning environment 
  • Dedicated faculty who care about students and share their field expertise
  • Ongoing support from a Student Success Coach who will guide you during the program 
  • Clinical placement support, so you can focus on learning without the burden of securing your own clinical experience
  • Hands-on residency training that will help you broaden your clinical competence

As an FNP, you can broaden your impact, enjoy more autonomy, and help shape the future of healthcare.

Read about how FNPs are making a difference and filling gaps in primary care.

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