The Baby Boomers are getting older. They’re retiring from their careers in record numbers, and their healthcare needs are rising. That fact alone puts a tremendous stress on the healthcare industry, but it’s doubly as distressing when this sudden revelation hits – more than one million American nurses are slated to join them in retirement.
One-third of the country’s nursing workforce – a million registered nurses – will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years. Half of them will be gone by 2022.
The Barrier to Entry
There were almost 158,000 nursing graduates to fill those vacancies in 2014, but demand is still high. Many schools haven’t been able to process students fast enough to make up for the staggering amount of open positioning in the workforce. Universities and nursing schools simply don’t have the resources required to keep pace.
According to a 2013 American Association of Colleges of Nursing report, “U.S. nursing schools turned away 79,659 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2012 due to insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors and budget constraints.”
Pam Cipriano, the president of the American Nurses Association, blamed aging for the student bottleneck. Nurse educators, just like nurses, are aging out of their positions.
“As [educators] drop, schools have to maintain critical student- to-teacher ratios,” she said. “Preparation for most nurse faculty is a doctoral degree, and you can’t just replace someone in that position. The trajectory of timeline to fill jobs that nurse faculty are retiring from is much longer.”
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Practical experience is creating another barrier to entry. Nursing is an experience-intensive field, and post-graduate training requires time in clinics and hospitals. These facilities, however, are already flooded with new nurses seeking training. Those who can’t find a spot in a local facility either have to keep searching elsewhere for openings, or forego meaningful on-the-job experience.
“When we think about nurses replacing retiring nurses, there is an experience gap,” Cipriano said. “People like me who have 40 years of experience will be replaced by individuals with three-to-five years of experience. Employers need to focus on the fact that they have a responsibility and a burden to ensure that new nurses can maintain expertise and wisdom at a patient’s side.”
The Benefits of the Shortage
This landscape makes it challenging for prospective nurses to gain the credentials and experience required to fill these nursing vacancies, but those who can get their foot in the door will be working at a distinct advantage.
Facilities don’t want tired nurses. They don’t want their staffs spread too thin. The aging, departing nurses have to be replaced. The aging Baby Boomers need consistent and reliable care. That’s why hospitals desperate for help are prone to offering extra shifts or financial incentives to nurses.
Those nurses who are willing will also have the opportunity to travel around the country pursuing good salaries and flexible hours. They will have opportunities to work in the areas of medicine in which they specialize. They’ll be able to become nursing educators or other types of facilitators in the education system; some universities are offering loan forgiveness programs to those who agree to teach after graduating from nursing school.
One million nurses are needed by 2022, and the field has become extremely competitive. But for those willing to pursue this line of work – through school and experience bottlenecks – will be rewarded with consistent work and job security for the foreseeable future.
“I love helping people,” said Ashley Romano, a Florida nurse. “And I love knowing wherever I go, I will always have a job.”