It's so interesting to me that there is a continual nursing shortage, yet it seems that there are SO many people who want to be nurses! I just had a friend who waited for 18 months to get off a waiting list and into BSN program. Part of the issue is that there aren't enough people wanting to become nursing educators. How are you going to help out in this national shortage?

Vignesh Ramachandran, 4:35 p.m. EDT May 7, 2014

On one hand, things are looking pretty dandy for nursing in the United States: the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 19 percent growth in employment for registered nurses from 2012–2022. Compare that to an 11 percent average growth rate for all occupations. That's a reason to celebrate during National Nurses Week.

But here's the twist: The recent recession made it more difficult for entry-level nurses to find work, as more experienced nurses put off retirement and stayed in the job force. So now there's a nurse shortage – and it's happening all over the world.

In 2010, a World Health Organization report revealed that India needed 2.4 million more nurses. In sub-Saharan Africa, shortages are having profound effects on health care. In Canada, a nursing shortage lingers on, with an expected 60,000 additional registered nurses needed by 2022.

And as for the U.S.? The demand for health care is only expected to increase here. With baby boomers aging, 2–3 million additional patients will enter into Medicare each year, says Peter McMenamin, senior policy fellow and health economist at the American Nurses Association.

And what about the more than 8 million people who have already signed up for health care via the Affordable Care Act? The new demands from patients getting insurance through Obamacare are still too early to tell, but more people will likely increase demand.

With a shortage expected also among primary care physicians, some assert that nurses can help fill the gaps. Which leads us to a basic supply-and-demand problem: We need 'em, but we don't got 'em.

A cohort of nurses entered the profession in the 1970s have aged into their 60s and are getting ready to retire, McMenamin says. So between now and 2022, not only will there be an expected half-million nursing jobs from growing demand — but also another half-million nurses will retire and need to be replaced.

The pipeline itself is in danger, and has been for some time, according to McMenamin. Title VIII funding for nursing education has been eaten away by inflation over the years. Plus, it's tough to replace aging faculty at nursing schools with well-paid nurse practitioners and midwives. Taking teaching jobs over well-paying gigs at hospitals is a tough sell — the pay loss for many faculty would be as much as $20,000–$30,000 a year.

In fact, Robert Rosseter, a spokesperson for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, said that almost 79,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs last year because of faculty shortages.

It might be time to address current and projected nursing shortages before we're all sick and the nurses are all exhausted.

AuthorCourtney Tracy