Did you read it? — “Why is the U.S. perpetually short of nurses?”

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

If you’re growing weary of all the chatter about the current and future nurse shortage, especially when so little is being done to trigger change, it’s probably because this issue has been around for a long…long…long time.

Below, in a recent article published by The New Yorker, one author explores the curious staying power of the nation’s nurse deficit. The article begins by comparing two earlier editorial pieces, both of which address the shortage.

“The nationwide shortage of nurses is likely to reach crisis proportions… There is not much chance for permanent relief until the nursing profession is made more attractive to young people through better salaries, working conditions and public recognition.”



In another, titled “We Need More Nurses,” Alexandra Robbins warns of dire consequences in the absence of a larger nursing workforce: “The more patients assigned to a nurse, the higher the patients’ risk of death, infections, complications, falls, failure-to-rescue rates and readmission to the hospital—and the longer their hospital stay.”

“We Need More Nurses” was written in May 2015. The first article was written in 1965.


Different times, same issue.


And it’s not as though the trend has gone unnoticed. Countless studies have been conducted to illustrate, track and forecast the severity of the nurse deficit. Some studies have been geared toward quantitative data; others with a focus on at-risk regions. There are even those highlighting sporadic booms, such as the rise of nurse employment in 2007.

The overall conclusion, however, is that shortages are likely to continue or recur. All of which points to somewhat of an economic anomaly:

In a relatively free society and economy, the tendency with any labor-supply shortage, in the face of steady or increasing demand, is that higher wages and other benefits will attract people to the profession, and the problem will largely resolve itself over time. Why has this not been the case with nursing?

The author goes on to describe the nursing profession as “volatile,” a characteristic that makes measuring balance, as a whole, a difficult task. What’s clear, however, is that the numbers simply aren’t adding up.

According to the article, there are 2.7 million registered nurses employed in the United States. A 2010 government survey revealed that nearly half of all registered nurses were not actively working in the field.


So—what gives? Well, to start, there’s the training.


As both Times editorials suggest, nursing is very demanding, and the education required is rigorous, in terms of both its duration and the level of specialized knowledge required. For those who are prepared to commit, there is a shortage of clinical-training slots, and of teachers.

As it turns out, nurses are who are qualified to teach can pad their pockets more by actually working in the field. Just last year, 78,000 students felt the sting of the scarcity when they were denied admission to nursing school.

Then, of course (as you know), there’s the work itself.

For those in the field, the work is difficult enough that a large percentage of nurses leave the profession at some point in their careers.

While nurses tend to be satisfied with their career choice, fully half of them worry that the job has harmed their health. Some surveys of nurses have also found dissatisfaction with wages, hours, technological complexity, and administrative burdens.

Some regions, such as the West, are taking a harder hit than others. Though, as the article points out, it’s hard to determine a universally adequate nurse-to-patient ratio.

Of course, with ratio being an offshoot of a greater whole, the overarching uncertainty remains.

The perpetual nature of the crisis, and the projections moving forward, naturally lead to the question of whether, given our evolving awareness of the underlying complexities, different policies can hope to create more nurses.

Some medical professionals suggest that the health-care system has reduced its need for nurses by assigning some tasks to other types of workers, such as nursing assistants, technicians, and orderlies.

Such shifts, however, are not necessarily advantageous, leaving just one other option:

A better alternative, however, would be to improve the ways we attract and train nurses.

Nurses, want a full read? Check out the article in its entirety here, then tell us how you think the shortage should be addressed in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. It seems to me that the answer to the nursing shortage is the same one we have been stating for at least the last 15 years. Train more nurses. I have been in nursing for over 30 years and it still astounds me when someone tells me they want to be a nurse, and they share their passion, vision, and love for caring, but they cannot get into school. I ask why and they give various reasons Some of which are their own hang ups. Like, they only want to go to one certain school, or they don’t want to travel out of state, they are not seeking experiences to expose themselves to the healthcare field. But mostly the answer boils down to the fact that there just are not many open spots each year for acceptance to nursing schools. At the school level we need proactive counsellors who can invest in potential musing student and navigate them into a school. If you do not get accepted the first time do some prep work at a community college to improve your grades, obtain CNA experience to advance your on the job trading and show diligence, spread your net wide in the application process. The second answer is money. Not so much the amount an entry level graduate nurse will earn but the amount we spend on the programs and staff that educate our nurses. (Graduate nurses I work with are usually very appreciative of their pay rate, they have just spent years as students without pay and have student loans so they are glad to be earning.). We also need to decrease the amount of money it takes to apply and prepare for nursing school. Nurse educators, like teacher everywhere should recieve premium pay! Nursing is a rather thankless job, period but even more thankless at the educator level. You can make a lot more money with lots less hours at the bedside. Nursing unions everywhere and state nursing organization need to put education and limiting nurse patient ratios at the top of their agenda. As the shortage increases nursing will once again be required to give more and the patient will suffer, nurses will become fearful, discouraged and fatigue. They will leave nursing, and the downward cycle will escalate. Then the government will take note, task forces will be formed and we will still not be producing enough qualified ursing staff. Just to note while working on nursing education to increase the number of graduate nurses, we must never compromise the quality of their education and the standards required to become certified RNS. Focus on recruiting more nurse educators through better pay and less hours.
    PS I am not a nurse educator. I have considered becoming one several times but that cost and time amount of school required for a masters degree plus the low pay with long hours discourage me every time. Thank you for this article. Johna Magnuson, BSN

  2. I started nursing in 1957 and worked until injured 2 years ago. Although I taught for a while I would never advise anyone to persue nursing as a career. It’s every bad thing others wrote about. I found Hospice was the only place I could give my whole self to my patients and their families. It involved my heart and soul as well as my skills. Over the years I worked all areas and in most positions. I’m certified in Psych/Mental Health and was was one of first cert in Cardiac Care. Making a difference in people’s lives has been my passion. Passion is the only reason to choose any career and be happy…but also knowing the stresses and strains and how to handle them appropriately make a more happy, pleasant nurse.

  3. I graduated last year with my MSN in nursing ed. No one wants to hire me because they want 18hrs experience. There’s teachers out there but no one will hire them.

  4. Oh I could write volumes on this topic, but I’ll try to confine my opinions to what I know. I think a lot of nurses come into the field with $$ in their eyes. Not stars, just $$ and then find out they actually have to work hard to get that money, so they leave. My personal feeling is every single nurse should start off as a nurse aid/tech. Until you’ve walked in those shoes (run is more like it) you can’t begin to empathize and appreciate how hard they work. Lead by example, don’t ask a tech to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself, or to help them as they perform those tasks. Stop and help roll a patient, stop and help make a bed, let them know they are valued. We’re only as good as they are. Another thing is when a supervisor has never worked the floor, they only know how to send people here or there, but have no idea what actually goes on. They have book knowledge but no practical experience. Its very frustrating when a sup is on your butt for not taking a lunch but won’t come do prn’s for you so you can take a lunch break. Those are the things that really make nurses throw up their hands. It has me on more than one occasion. I think the last thing has to do with heart. If your heart doesn’t sing when you know you’re going to take care of people, you need to look to a different profession. Nursing is me, I am a nurse and its what makes me happy. I’ve had my down times, its part of the job, but overall, it defines who I am.

    • Marilyn, well stated! I happen to agree with you on so many levels! If you are not in it for the heart wage you will burn out quickly. I am no longer beating the floor like I did in my youth but nursing is still my heart and I try hard to do my job in a way that those under my supervision are getting that heart wage, feeling respected and valuable, and I strive to be the example, not having different rules for different people! I have been an inpatient often also and I can tell you as a nurse/patient you can see right away who the good nurses are, who is in it for the right reasons, and who of them is on a power trip.

    • Amen Girl!!! I couldn’t of worded this any better! We are getting so many “new” nurses who think they are going to make bank and they can just sit on there butts for 8-12 shifts. That’s not nursing. Nursing is about the patients we take care of without them we wouldn’t have a job to begin with! The sad part is the nurses who go above and beyond are the ones with the back injuries, or other issues because we help everyone on the floor. We need a more team effort when it comes to nursing. We are all a team no matter what credentials you have behind your name.

  5. nurses are over loaded with high acuity patients that need more care. there are too many politics in some hospitals, where if you dont cuddle up to the ones IN CHARGE, you are treated differently. if you refuse to follow the wrong way of treatments, you are treated badly. i have been a nurse for 54 years and teach cnas now at a small school. the hospital where i worked resented and treated the ones that i considered smarter and more experienced differently, and snubbed and were mean to those. the supervisors were very distant and called meetings after a 12 hour shift and complained about everything without listening. i want to work again in a hospital, but the ones near, are overloaded, and treat you badly. doris fuller, georgia


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