How to heal the nursing shortage
__ By Leah Carlson
The United States is drastically in need of more nurses. Nurses are the professional health worker closest to the sick or injured patient. They have always been and continue to be on the front lines of health care. Nurses carry out the prescribed plan provided by the attending physician and must be knowledgeable in all levels of treatment. Needless to say, nurses are critical for a healthy population. It is imperative that we know why a shortage of nurses exists and what can be done to solve this problem.
First of all, there are three major reasons for the nursing shortage today in this country. To begin with, Americans are living longer than they used to. Since the life expectancy of Americans is increasing rather drastically (from 69 years in 1960 to 78 years in 2010) the population of the United States is increasing. There are simply more people in America who need a nurse.
Secondly, statistically, nurses in America are old. The average age of a nurse in this country is 47 years old. Only eight percent of nurses are less than 30 years old. The present nursing shortage that we are experiencing in this country due to increased life expectancy, is nowhere near the shortage that will occur once our aging work force of nurses begin to retire en masse.
Finally, it is evident that there are not enough colleges out there equipped to handle the amount of qualified applicants who wish to be a nurse. For example, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, only 64 of the 324 total applicants were admitted in 2011. At the University of Washington at Seattle, 95 students were admitted out of 455 applicants. And at the University of Pittsburg, only 120 out of 1,050 applicants were admitted. It is obvious that the problem is not the lack of Americans who want to be nurses. The problem is finding the schools that can teach them to become nurses. Robert Rosseter said, “There are definitely a lot of people interested in nursing.” He said, “The number of students who met all the requirements but weren’t admitted was over 67,000 students last year in the U.S. nursing programs. People do want in, but there are just not enough seats.”
Reflecting upon what can be done with America’s nursing shortage is a valuable exercise. It is obvious that our country’s increased life expectancy and thus the increased need for nurses is a good thing. While our country does not lead the world in this category (Italy, for example, average life expectancy is 81), we can be glad that we are living longer and we are a healthier people. Through increased attention on wellness activities such as improved diet and exercise and breakthroughs in medicine and medical technology, our life expectancy should continue to increase.
One short-term solution to solving nursing shortages is for hospitals and the state and federal government to provide incentives for aging nurses to remain in their occupation. Wage and benefit increases and increased opportunities for them to share their experiences with early career nurses are just two possible incentives that can be considered.
Providing incentives for state universities and other post-secondary institutions to build capacity to accept a much higher percentage of nursing applicants seems to be of critical importance. What these incentives might look like is still in question. However, it is obvious that there is a need to increase the number of programs in the United States that are training students to become nurses. Also, there is a need to expand the programs presently out there so that they can accept more qualified nursing school candidates.
Nursing is not for everyone. I know that it does take a lot of work and time out of your life. I know I am very interested in nursing and hope I get to be accepted to a prestigious nursing program. One benefit of being a nurse is people will continue to be sick or hurt no matter how bad our economy ends up. Nurses will always have a job. Another benefit of becoming a nurse is the gift you will be to your kids, family, and the people with whom you come in contact.
I am from a family of nurses. I have two sisters, a mom and an older brother that have all become nurses. My older sister Hannah has felt the shortage in this country of nursing first hand. “ Not that I work excessively but I have benefited directly through Indian Health Service Loan Repayment for nursing shortage facilities that are all over the country, especially in rural areas,” she said. “People continue to become sicker. People will be dying from unhealthy lifestyles choices so nurses will always be needed….. It just so happens that, we have people in need of health care, and the nurses are stretched far and few between to cover the majority of places in the country. We simply do not have the staff to adequately supply each facility with qualified high level care.”
“As a nurse, we have the opportunity to heal the heart, mind, soul and body of our patients, their families and ourselves.”
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