The Effect of the Recession on the Nursing Shortage

As one of the few remaining United States industries with any growth, the health care sector is becoming an attractive option for American workers. With more gainful employees being fired by the day, these workers are looking to the future for other opportunities.

Hospital Nursing Shortage
The current recession is sending certified nurses back to work, which is having a positive short-term impact on the nursing shortage.
While America has been laying off its workers, hospitals have been hiring them. Today's vacancy rate of 16% reflects the constant shortage of American nurses in hospitals.3% as noted by the American Health Care Association in 2008, is the worst reported since the sixties. This shortage, according to Health Affairs, a policy journal, started about a decade ago in 1998 and peaked in 2001 with an average vacancy rate of 13%. This shortage can only increase in the upcoming years, as older generations require medical care that cannot be provided by current hospitals.

The nursing shortage itself has been driving nurses out of the workforce. Dissatisfaction with long hours and understaffing has caused many nurses to look into alternate employment opportunities. This has exacerbated the problem even further, as the nurses that make it through crowded nursing schools don't necessarily enter hospitals after graduation.

Lay offs and cut backs are sending these nurses back to hospitals. Most nurses think of hospitals as being recession-proof due to the need for the procession, keeping the workers in the industry. Sadly, the recession may be responsible for the filling in of the nursing shortage in the short term, since nurses of retirement age are forced to continue working in order to provide income and health benefits for their families. Long term effects will doubtlessly show a shortage increase again when these nurses are finally able to resign.

Researchers are finding that the nursing shortage has decreased slightly, as nurses reenter the workforce, and current nurses work more hours to increase pay and work for years rather than retiring, due to spouse's lost job and a lack of health insurance. This could actually conclude the nursing shortage in some parts of the United States, as small towns and rural areas are hardest hit by the shortage.

A little less than a quarter of a billion nurses joined the health care workforce in the last year, which represents a greater jump than any other in the last twenty years, says Health Affairs. For example, Truman Medical Centers has seen a 13% drop in vacancy rates from 20% to 7% in the last year alone. Using techniques that maximize recruitment and retention, such as funding for continuing education and online nursing degree programs, can be a deciding factor in the success of a hospital.

The recession favors older nurses over young nurses, which can be disappointing for new graduates. Though positions in hospitals are open, many administrators prefer experienced workers, and will wait to hire a nurse reentering the field, rather than a new nurse on his or her first assignment. These hires will eventually find placements, but the process may take longer than they had originally expected based on the economic climate.

The majority of nurses hired in the last year are already approaching retirement age, with only a third between 21 and 34. Recruitment in other countries will help bridge the nursing gap in the short run. Almost twice as many nurses are foreign born today compared to the numbers from twenty years ago, and 10% of these foreign born nurses moved to the United States in the years since the shortage peaked.