Why the nursing shortage differs from the physician shortage

The healthcare industry is likely to face both doctor and nurse shortfalls as the population ages, but the nursing shortage will require solutions that address the profession's unique challenges, according to an opinion piece published in the Washington Post.

The United States may be short as many as 90,000 physicians by 2025, according to an Association of American Medical Colleges study released in March, and a 2014 report from the American Nurses Association warned that the country will need to produce 1.1 million new nurses by 2022 to fill jobs and replace retirees. The job market for nurses, however, does vary by region of the country.

Yet even as nurses flock to higher education programs in record numbers, one major driver of the projected nurse shortage is the dearth of faculty to teach this surge of students. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that at two-thirds of nursing schools, faculty shortfalls are the main reason for turning away students, Martie Moore, the chief nursing officer at Medline Industries, writes in the opinion piece.

Nurses also face unique occupational challenges such as burnout, peer bullying, workplace violence and work-related injuries that drive many from the field, realities that Moore says offer a clear opportunity for health systems to step up. "If they want an adequate supply of nurses, healthcare organizations must heed nurses' emotional, physical and professional needs or risk losing them," she writes.

To do this, healthcare organizations must encourage professional training opportunities for nurses (perhaps by offering online courses), create an environment that protects their health and well-being, and promote an organizational culture that values nurse leadership and input, according to the opinion piece. Another key nurse retention strategy is to allow nurses scheduling flexibility, FierceHealthcare has reported, as long shifts not only wear down nurses but also can lead to dissatisfied patients.

Facilities may also want to pursue Magnet status--an elite designation for hospitals that show nursing excellence--as data show that hospitals that apply for the honor and those that receive it can improve patient and nurse outcomes.

To learn more:
- read the opinion piece