Many RNs Think Nursing Shortages Getting Worse

Registered nurses — the backbone of the healthcare system — see the problem of nursing shortages first hand, and many believe they are getting worse, according to a recently released national survey. Nearly half of RNs surveyed said the nursing shortage has worsened in the last five years, while a significantly smaller percentage think it has gotten better.

That was just one of the insights from the 2017 Survey of Registered Nurses conducted by AMN Healthcare. We conduct the biennial RN survey to provide the healthcare industry with immediate and up-to-date information directly from one of its largest and most influential workforce sectors.

In the wide-ranging survey, the 3,347 respondents provided their views on staff shortages, retirement, the delivery of care, work environment, leadership and other issues. The following are highlights regarding workforce shortages.

Baby-Boomer RN Retirements Exacerbating Shortages

The long-predicted wave of retirements among Baby-Boomer nurses is already underway, according to the survey, and is expected to continue over the next several years given that much of the nursing population is older. In fact, according to a 2015 study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, fully half of RNs are over age 50.

The retirement upsurge is clearly reflected in the 2017 survey, with data showing a significant increase among those nurses who say they will retire in the next year. According to the results, 27 percent — more than one in four of nurses — say they are planning to retire plan to do so in less than a year compared to 16 percent who had such plans in the 2015 survey.

The Baby-Boomer RN retirements are expected to exacerbate nursing shortages into the foreseeable future – a trend widely acknowledged in the healthcare industry and one which likely contributed to the higher percentages of nurses who think shortages are getting worse. According to the survey, 48 percent of RNs, or nearly half, felt that the nursing shortage had worsened over the last five years. This compares to 37 percent of RNs who felt this way in 2015. In addition, the percentages of RNs who said that nursing shortages are not as bad as five years ago dropped to 22 percent in 2017, down from 34 percent in 2015.

Shortages Help Fuel National Nurse Licensure Movement

The nursing shortage, where demand is clearly outpacing RN supply, has left healthcare organizations facing one of the most competitive hiring markets in U.S. history.

This intense competition for high-quality professionals is among several factors spurring a national nurse licensure movement. Launched in 2000 by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, The Nurse Licensure Compact gives eligible RNs the ability to practice in other compact states without having to secure an additional license. Nurses strongly support national licensure rather than the state-by-state process, which proponents say will help streamline the hiring process, improve providers’ access to quality nurses and facilitate telemedicine across state lines. Thus far, 26 states have joined the Compact.

According to the survey, seven out of 10 RNs answered “yes” when asked, “Would it be helpful for your career if there were national level licensing rather than state by state licensing?” Younger nurses answered affirmatively at greater proportions than older nurses, but nurses of all age groups, education levels, and specialties heavily supported national licensure.

Shortages May Affect Nurses’ Education Pursuits

Along with fueling national nurse licensure, the realities of an extremely competitive job market may be reflected in the survey data on education.

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The survey showed that the percentage of nurses who say they are seeking a higher degree has dropped since 2015.  This suggests that nurses may be more focused on getting a better job through the highly competitive marketplace than through additional education and training.

According to the survey, 48 percent of nurses say they won’t pursue further education, compared to 43 percent in 2015. However, only 23 percent of millennial nurses said they won’t pursue further education, indicating that younger nurses are more interested in higher degrees than older nurses.

The lower overall percentage of nurses interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree is concerning, given recent research showing that better educated nurses provide higher levels of patient care. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Nursing Administration, researchers found that hospitals with higher percentages of nurses with BSN degrees have better patient outcomes.

Marcia Faller
Marcia Faller, PhD, RN, is the chief clinical officer for AMN Healthcare. Throughout her tenure with AMN, Dr. Faller has championed the development of consistent quality standards for credentialing and competency evaluation of healthcare professionals.