By now we’re all familiar with the much-documented, much-discussed nursing shortage: By the year xxxx, we will need xxxx nurses. The numbers vary based on government statistics and authors’ calculations, but it’s the concept that matters here: A significant gap between nurses needed and the actual number of nurses in the workforce will emerge in the not too distant future.
We are also familiar with the reasons: 1) the nursing population is aging; 2) the aging population is living longer requiring more nurses to deliver care; 3) the Affordable Care Act has brought and will continue to bring more people into the healthcare system; and 4) many nurses are choosing to advance their careers as APNs, CRNAs, etc., leaving fewer nurses to deliver direct care.
We can feel the nursing shortage now in nursing education: for several years there has been a call to increase nursing faculty. In fact, potential nursing students have been placed on waitlists for this reason. Of course, if there are not enough faculty to meet the demands for educating potential nursing students now, there will be fewer nurses in the workforce, and fewer nurses available to enter nursing education in the future.
Is there anything good about this situation? Well, for professional nursing, no; but for women in general, maybe. Today, young women certainly have more career options. You may remember the days when high school guidance counselors directed girls toward those more “traditional” careers: nursing and teaching. During the 20th century we saw women enter and succeed in business, and in some cases build megabrands (e.g., Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey). We saw more women in science, medicine, and journalism; more women in law and in government; and we saw more women rise to become global leaders in politics and leaders on social issues.
In the 21st century, a young woman’s career path is potentially unrestricted although there may be significant challenges. Young women are able to choose careers that will challenge them, yet bring them a sense of joy while fulfilling their need to feel accomplished. For some, yes, that means nursing, but for all young women, the choices should be limitless.
The lesson for professional nursing: Now more than ever we need to compete with other careers for the attention of young women and young men.
We need to let young people know that their creative and scientific skills and interests are not only applicable to nursing, but are sought and welcomed.
We need to let them know that nurses can travel across the country or around the world to help the most vulnerable people and to educate other nurses, and we need to let them know that their potential as nurses is unlimited. The strongest promotion and enthusiastic endorsement to assure the future of nursing and the future of patient care must come from nurses. A nursing shortage represents a chasm in the healthcare system that places patient safety and their well-being at tremendous risk. The good thing about the nursing shortage is that it teaches us the value of nurses.