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Posted: April 01, 2008

We're in Trouble: US Facing Severe Shortage of Nurses

Out of control costs aren't the only threat to the U.S. health care system: a new study gloomily warns that the United States faces a severe shortage of nurses, who are often the front line of the nation’s health care defenses.

"It is a matter of supply and demand in a profession that is the front line of our health care system," said Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, one of the study authors. "While there have been some notable and important improvements, our data shows that we have in no way solved this emerging long-term problem."

The authors point out that demand for registered nurses (RNs) is expected to continue to grow at 2% to 3% per year, as it has done for the past four decades, while the supply of RNs is expected to grow very little, as large numbers of nurses begin to retire.

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An increased deficit of the supply of nurses is expected to begin in 2015, grow to an estimated 285,000 full-time nurses in 2020, and reach 500,000 by 2025.

The current nursing shortage began in 1998 and has continued for a decade, making it the longest lasting nursing shortage in the past 50 years.

Inadequate nurse staffing in hospitals is associated with reductions in hospital bed capacity, delays in the timeliness of patient care, longer length of stay by patients, interruptions in care delivery processes, and increased risk of adverse patient outcomes, including mortality.

The authors -- who include Douglas Staiger, Ph.D., from Dartmouth University, and David Auerbach, Ph.D., of the Congressional Budget Office, in addition to Buerhaus -- make recommendations to policy makers in both the short- and long-term.

In the short term, the authors suggest adopting more technology among nurses, accommodating an older workforce and expanding nursing education opportunities.

The authors' long-run strategies focus on how to change the long-term growth rates for the nursing work force, such as removing barriers associated with educating more men and reinforcing pay-for-performance systems.

(Article courtesy of

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