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The Current Nursing Shortage in the United States

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The Current Nursing Shortage in the United States By: Allison Smith 4/10/2010 Thesis Advisor: Sandra DeWeeseS m i t h | 2 Abstract Thesis: The nursing shortage currently in the United States is a pressing issue in healthcare. It is a result from a shortage of skilled nurses who can tend to individual patients and the overall population, thus creating an issue of supply and demand. Subsequently, many of today‘s nurses are ―undereducated‖ and not able to meet practice standards, affecting patient care. The important question is what recommendations do health administrators and policy makers have in order to balance the supply and demand of the nursing profession? Definition: The nursing shortage results from a shortage of skilled nurses who can care to individual patients and the overall population. Why is this topic important? Exploring the current nursing shortage is important because many factors contribute to why the United States is facing this problem today. These factors include the aging of the RN workforce, impact on nursing educators and enrollment rates, and the negative perception of the nursing profession. These contributing factors not only affect nurses in the profession, but most importantly, they impact patient care. It is up to nurses to provide adequate and safe care in a critical care setting. In addition, the situation presents a challenge as how to retain and reduce turnover for the highly skilled registered nurses in the profession. Method of Research: As part of my search, I interviewed clinical leaders and practitioners in the nursing industry in addition to literature review. Discoveries: The factors contributing to the shortage, i.e. the aging RN workforce, lack of educational capacity and faculty, and the negative perception of the nursing profession, are true. Several solution possibilities point back to enhancing and fostering more education. Conclusions and Recommendations: In order to reduce the shortage, healthcare and nursing administrators, along with policy makers, must think of ways to balance the supply and demand of the nursing workforce. Many of today‘s nurses are ―undereducated‖ to meet practice demands. By enhancing educational opportunities for future and present nurses, many of the factors contributing to the shortage will reduce significantly. The possible solutions mentioned in my thesis will increase the supply of nurses, allowing them to provide safer care and the ability to work longer in the profession.S m i t h | 3 Introduction Almost every person has had an experience at a hospital; most of us were born in one after all. However, sometimes people go to hospitals for different reasons. At times, people face life threatening situations and must rely on someone to provide their care. Most people think doctors are the primary caregiver; however, that statement is wrong. The primary caregiver is the nurse walking into the patient‘s room almost every hour checking their vitals, assessing the patient‘s condition, providing treatment, and dispensing medication. Now let‘s go to a patient in a life-threatening situation. A 62 year-old male has acute renal failure and is now recovering in the hospital‘s intensive care unit. The ICU is a critical care area, so a critical care nurse will provide their care. The critical care nurse in this situation is the most important person for this victim‘s experience at the hospital. After all, this ICU nurse is providing majority of their care. What the patient does not know is, depending on the hospital, how is the nurse is doing that day? The patient does not know if he or she feels overworked and stressed. The patient or their family might not realize they are caring for seven other critically ill patients (which is not an easy task). Patients and families sometimes do not realize the external toll it takes being a critical care nurse. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, ―critical care nursing is that specialty within nursing that deals specifically with human responses to life-threatening problems. A critical care nurse is a licensed professional nurse who is responsible for ensuring that acutely and critically ill patients and their families receive optimal care‖ (American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 2010).1 As the definition states, critical care nurses have a crucial job and much responsibility in caring for patients. In this patient‘s situation suffering from kidney failure, their nurse is taking care of seven other critically ill patients this shift. They feel extremely overworked and stressed. At the end of 1 (About Critical Care Nursing , 2010)S m i t h | 4 the day this nurse feels that their duties are limited because this hospital‘s intensive care unit is extremely understaffed. This scenario is not an extreme; it is a direct reflection of the nursing shortage our country faces today. The shortage results from a shortage of skilled nurses who can tend to individual patients and the overall general population. The nursing shortage is due to many factors discussed later is this paper, but according to the Center for Nursing Advocacy, the shortage ultimately results in ―nurse short-staffing, poor work conditions, inadequate resources for nursing research and education, the aging nursing workforce, expanded career opportunities for women, nursing‘s predominately female nature, the increasing complexity of healthcare and technology, and the rapidly aging populations in developed nations‖ (The Center for Nursing Advocacy, 2007).2 This extensive list of factors provides many reasons as to why the shortage is occurring and why nurses feel inadequate in the workplace. In addition, we can see how difficult it is for policy makers, nursing educators, nursing administrators, and healthcare administrators to address and find solutions for this growing situation. Thesis The nursing shortage currently in the United States is a pressing issue in healthcare. It is a result from a shortage of skilled nurses who can tend to individual patients and the overall population, thus creating an issue of supply and demand. Subsequently, many of today‘s nurses are ―undereducated‖ and not able to meet practice standards, affecting patient care. This thesis explores the following issues as to why this problem is occurring, the historical perspective of the nursing shortage,


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