HEALTH CARE thoughts: Nursing Shortage Issues

by Tom aka Rusty Rustbelt

HEALTH CARE: Nursing Shortage Issues

As Labor Day approaches it is a good time to think about health care labor issues, some good news, some bad news.

A phenomena many of us have noticed over the years (hard to exactly quantify though) is that recessions pull nurses back into the labor market. Nurses (about 94% female) often have husbands or significant others who lose jobs or hours.

Also, some of the staffing pressure is off at the hospital level because elective procedures are down and that takes pressure off the nursing staffing.

Recessions are not the desired means of correcting the shortage though.

My files on the shortage go back at 20+ years, and amazingly little progress has been made during that time.

There are some new and expanded programs, but a big problem now is the lack of nursing faculty. Unlike many PhD qualified professors, nursing professors are in big demand for management positions, usually in hospitals and health systems. So we are cannibalizing our own nursing pipeline.

University nursing programs are labor intensive, resource intensive and not nearly as prestigious as producing more MBAs, lawyers and economists.

While universities will get into bidding wars over top flight business, science or law professors, the willingness to play in the nursing salary market seems muted (perhaps if nursing was 94% male???).

The shortage will persist; the average age of RNs is climbing, the boomer nurses are heading for the exit while the boomer patients are becoming seniors, clinical skill requirements are accelerating, tighter reimbursements leave providers with less flexible budgets, and at times up to half of all licensed nurses are not working in direct care nursing – – all which seems to be a perfect storm.

We can send a man to the moon, but we can’t figure out how to solve this problem in a country where lots of people need new careers (and yes, lots of people are not suited for nursing). Maybe when we have to shut a lot of hospitals?

Tom aka Rusty Rustbelt