Nursing Shortage Continues to Drive Career Opportunities

An aging population and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act contribute to the demand for more nursing students

By Curtis Ross
Posted 2012

Nursing Shortage in 2012 and Beyond
Nursing Shortage in 2012 and Beyond

A shortage of nurses is looming, causing concern for hospitals and other care facilities. It’s good news, however, for nursing students looking ahead to employment prospects. The American College of Medical Quality reports there will be a shortage of nearly 1 million nurses in the United States by 2030, according to the Triangle Business Journal.

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There are several reasons for the shortage, including the cyclical nature of the profession’s employment.

The Nursing Shortage is Caused Primarily By Demand

According to Mary Harbeson of Victory Healthcare in Houston’s Texas Medical Center, "The shortage of nurses has been going on for 20 years, and we continue to see ups and downs in this area.

“Things get better for a while, then we'll see a number of older nurses retire and it starts over," Harbeson told the Houston Chronicle.

Most of the shortage, though, is driven by increased demand.

“Despite a 5% enrollment increase in baccalaureate nursing programs in 2011, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing says that will not be enough to keep up with the increasing health care needs,” according to an article in the Triangle Business Journal. The article attributes much of that demand to implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will extend health care to 32 million Americans.

Furthermore, according to the Journal story, health care experts believe “nurses and physician assistants will provide more direct care, especially in the primary care setting that does not require highly-specialized care.”

These healthcare providers require less schooling than doctors, thus lowering costs, the article says.

Also spurring the increase in demand for nurses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are “technological advancements, permitting a greater number of health problems to be treated; an increased emphasis on preventive care; and the large, aging baby boomer population who will demand more healthcare services as they live longer and more active lives than previous generations.”

Those planning to attend nursing school, though, may find another shortage affecting their education.

Online Nursing Schools Allow More Students to Enter the Field 

According to the Triangle Business Journal, “U.S. nursing schools turned away 75,587 qualified applicants due to insufficient faculty, clinical sites and classroom space, not to mention budget constraints” for the 2011-2012 school year.

Online education may help alleviate that issue.

"One of the reasons I am optimistic regarding the nursing outlook is due to the Internet,” said Misty Bass of Houston’s Texas Medical Center.

Many nursing schools are going online, offering classes through the Internet, which is more convenient for many. This also will help those looking to obtain their master's and possibly doctorate’s so they can teach," Bass told the Houston Chronicle.

According to the BLS, there are three common paths to becoming a registered nurse (RN): a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN), which usually takes four years; an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN); or a diploma from an approved nursing program, both of which usually are completed in two or three years.

All programs also include supervised clinical experience in hospital departments such as pediatrics, psychiatry, maternity and surgery. A number of programs include clinical experience in extended and long-term care facilities, public health departments, home health agencies or ambulatory (walk-in) clinics.

While a bachelor’s, associate’s or diploma typically qualifies the graduate for an entry-level staff nurse position, a bachelor's degree or higher is required for administrative positions, research, consulting and teaching.

“Many registered nurses with an ADN or diploma find an entry-level position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits to work toward a BSN by completing a RN-to-BSN program,” according to the BLS.

In addition, there are nursing master’s degree programs, programs which bachelor’s and master’s, and programs for those with degrees in other fields who wish to become nurses.

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