Five Causes of Our Nation’s Nursing Shortage

As you may have heard, the U.S. is on the verge of a serious nursing shortage. In fact, if the problem persists, the number of qualified registered nurses will not be able to meet healthcare demands over the next decade. Here are five reasons for the impending crisis:

1. Aging Populace In Need of Care

America’s largest generation is getting older. The Baby Boomers, or people born between 1946 and 1964, account for almost a third of the U.S. population, and they’re currently reaching retirement age. As older individuals tend to require more medical care, additional healthcare workers are needed to fill the void. Without an increase in the number of qualified RNs, patient care is bound to suffer.

2. Rise in Number of Insured Patients

One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is universally mandated health insurance. As more individuals join the healthcare rolls, the number of patients visiting their doctors for routine check-ups and other treatments is expected to rise as well. Because there aren’t enough physicians to cover this increase in patients, many practices are looking to nurse practitioners and nurse-managed health centers to help pick up the slack. As a result, more RNs are needed to meet the increased demand.

3. Lack of Skilled Nursing Instructors

Combatting our nation’s nursing shortage requires that we graduate more qualified RNs. However, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, U.S. nursing schools rejected more than 75,000 applicants from graduate and baccalaureate nursing programs in 2011 due to a lack of teachers. Nursing programs are struggling to find experienced faculty members who are willing to relocate to schools in need of instructors. Additionally, many nurses hesitate to leave jobs in hospitals and doctors’ offices to accept lower-paying positions in academia. Whatever the reason, there simply aren’t enough qualified instructors to teach the next generation of nurses.

4. Lack of Interest in the Nursing Profession

Along with faculty shortages, many nursing schools are struggling to attract top talent. In the past, nursing was one of the few career options open to female students. However, as opportunities for women increased, the number of young people entering the nursing industry declined. As a result, the current nursing population is aging rapidly. With the Health Resources and Services Administration projecting that over a million RNs will hit retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years, the nursing shortage is only expected to worsen.

5. High Turnover Due to Poor Working Conditions

While experienced nurses may enjoy greater flexibility in the workplace, employment opportunities for new nurses are hardly glamorous. Along with regular overtime shifts, younger nurses are often expected to work nights, weekends and holidays. Many new nurses opt to leave the business in favor of a career with more flexibility. Additionally, lack of staffing may lead to an increase in medical error and patient infection. The stress of working at understaffed hospitals and offices leads many nurses to exit the field early.

Despite the many challenges of working in the nursing field, the shortage is going to result in an unprecedented demand for skilled registered nurses. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is anticipating over half a million new nursing jobs between 2012 and 2022. Whether you’re currently attending college or on the verge of enrolling, you may want to consider a career in this growing field.

Four Great Lesser-Known Nursing Jobs

Just because you have a degree in nursing doesn’t mean you have to work in an emergency room or doctor’s office. These days, RNs are finding gainful employment in a wide range of disciplines and arenas. Here are four fascinating, if lesser-known, specialties in the nursing field:

Forensic Nursing

If you are detail-oriented, observant and have a keen interest in the U.S. justice system, then forensic nursing may be the specialty for you. Possessing special training in the collection of medical evidence, forensic nurses provide patient care while investigating physical and sexual assault crimes. They also work in a variety of settings, including ERs, forensic treatment units, colleges and research labs, and may be called upon to serve as expert medical witnesses during court cases.

While some forensic nurses are RNs, most individuals in this field also possess a Master’s degree or doctorate. A number of schools offer specialized forensic nursing training, including Boston College and Duquesne University. While the educational requirements of forensic nursing may seem rigorous, the work offers the invaluable reward of helping patients while ensuring that justice is served.

Cruise Ship Nursing

Interested in seeing the world? As a cruise ship nurse, you’ll have the opportunity to visit distant and exotic locales while putting your nursing degree to good use. Open to experienced RNs, cruise ship nursing involves providing expert medical care to the passengers and crew of an ocean liner. From treating cases of seasickness to handling more serious conditions like broken bones and heart attacks, cruise ship nurses must be able to keep calm under a variety of circumstances. Additionally, RNs in this specialty need to be aware of international medical practices, as U.S. standards may not apply in neutral waters. Still, cruise ship nursing is a great opportunity to meet and treat people from all different places and walks of life.

Lactation Nursing

Do you love working with infants? Advanced nurse lactation consultants provide breastfeeding help for new mothers and their babies. From addressing latching issues to offering tips for reducing discomfort, lactation nurses help women prevent and solve a wide array of issues surrounding breastfeeding. Additionally, lactation nurses ensure that babies are growing at the right speed and maintaining a healthy weight.

A number of educational programs exist to help aspiring lactation nurses develop their skills in this specialty. While a nursing degree is not required to be a lactation consultant, many patients appreciate having a registered nurse around to provide this essential training.

Psychiatric Nursing

As one of the most challenging specialties for RNs, psychiatric nursing can also be one of the most rewarding. Psychiatric mental health registered nurses, or PMHNs, treat patients in a variety of settings including traditional hospitals, mental health centers and rehab facilities. Along with diagnosing conditions and providing patient support, these nurses assist families in caring for loved ones with mental health issues.

It’s not surprising that psychiatric nursing can be a stressful career, and the successful PMHN should possess a detail-oriented, patient demeanor. Additionally, psychiatric nurses often undergo a great deal of training. While advanced degrees are not necessarily required, many PMH nurses pursue a Master’s or doctorate so that they can work as a psychotherapists or university professors.

A career in nursing is not without its difficulties. However, with a little research and a lot of hard work, nurses can find success in a specialty that matches their skills and interests perfectly.

Passing the NCLEX

Start preparing early.
Your NCLEX test date can creep up on you. It seems so far away and then….PANIC…it’s right around the corner. The earlier you begin studying, the less overwhelmed you’ll feel. Start small by buying a review book and trying out a few questions each day. Familiarizing yourself with the style and content of questions will help you figure out where you need to spend the bulk of your time when you really get into study mode.

Be consistent.
It takes a few weeks for something to become habit. Make NCLEX studying part of your daily schedule. Spend the same time each day and if possible, in a specific study spot. Having a regimen will give you a greater chance that you’ll stick with it.

Take that review class.
Review classes are worth it. Where else are you going to find someone who will condense an enormous amount of material into a need-to-know review book? When else would you sit in a room for eight hours doing nothing but NCLEX review? Nowhere! Review classes are worth the money.

Questions, questions, questions.
There’s no doubt the NCLEX has a distinct question format. In many cases, it’s more important that you catch on to how they want you to think things through than that you know all of the content. Sometimes you can go the other extreme, though—thinking into things too much can actually confuse you. The only way to find the balance is to do as many questions in advance as you can find. Your scores really will improve with time.

Practice deep breathing.
No matter what you do to prepare, sitting at that test station on the day of your NCLEX exam is completely anxiety provoking! “How many questions will I have? When will it shut off? I have no idea what the right answer is!” One of the best things you can do is stop every few questions to take a few deep breaths. You can’t do your best thinking in that worked up state. Make deep breathing part of your NCLEX review practice so that it’s second nature by the time you’re up at bat.

Scared to go Back to School for your Nursing Degree?

Going back to school when you’ve been in the real world for a while can seem completely foreign. Some subjects have been given a bad reputation over the years, but not to worry! Don’t let your fear of these 5 courses hold you back from pursuing your nursing degree.

Statistics just sounds frightening. But with a solid foundation of algebra knowledge, a good portable study guide, and a low threshold for getting some one-on-one help, it doesn’t need to be. Be proactive, have a plan, and you’ll fly through basic statistics.

Most nursing research classes serve to give you a basic overview of how research is conducted and interpreted so that you can effectively use research in your practice. Everyone worries about the papers they’ll need to write. The NSNA has a helpful guide to help you through a literature review. And Cincinnati Childrens has an online Power Point presentation with tips for forming sound research questions.

The key to mastering anatomy is memorization, memorization, and more memorization. Cramming for exams isn’t going to work. Setting up a calendar with the materials you need to study will. Buy a set of anatomy flash cards, like these from Elsevier Health and keep a stack with you to look over during your lunch break or while in a grocery store line.

Physiology can be challenging. It requires the memorization that anatomy does, but it also requires that you understand how cells, organs, and muscles function. It’s a wide range of complex information, so make sure you have a comprehensive study guide to help you focus on what you really need to know. Finding a few classmates for a study group can be a sure way to get through the material, answer questions, and cheer each other on.

Chemistry isn’t as scary as it seems! Once you get over the new terminology and that darned table of elements, chemistry principles are actually fun. For a quick free overview of a basic chemistry lesson, take a look at Pink Monkey and get familiar with all things atoms and electrons.

Forensic Nurses

It’s probably because I’ve based my understanding of how sexual assault victims are examined on what happens in episodes of Law and Order SVU or NCIS that I have been under the impression that police detectives and physicians are the only ones who examine the victims they encounter in the emergency room.  I am embarrassed to admit that, until very recently, I had little understanding about the critical real-life role forensic nurses play in caring for victims of sexual violence.

Forensic nursing is a relatively new subspecialty of nursing, and the men and women who work in this career field do so in different settings and in various roles.  In the United States, the most common patient population for forensic nurses to work with is those who have been sexually assaulted.  I didn’t know that forensic nurses are often the ones who interview and examine victims of sexual crimes, collect evidence, collaborate with law enforcement officials and provide expert testimony.

In a 2006 forward to the book, Forensic Nursing: a Handbook for Practice, Vice President Joseph Biden wrote, “Forensic nurses play an integral role in bridging the gap between law and medicine.  They should be in each and every emergency room.”  There is incredible value to having them there.  Victims of sexual assault suffer physically and psychologically at the hands of their attackers.  Without quality, sensitive health care, they may be forced to wait for long periods of time before they can be seen by already overworked staff.  They can be further traumatized during the invasive medical examinations, interviews, and evidence collection.

This week, November 7-11 in Forensic Nurses week.  IAFN has created a documentary about forensic nurses.  If you, like me, could use more information about what these amazing professionals do, I encourage you to view it here: