saturday, june 7, 2003
economist: nurse shortage building to crisis
by winthrop quigley
journal staff writer
a demographic disaster is awaiting american health care between 2010 and 2020, a prominent health care economist said friday in albuquerque.
vanderbilt university professor peter i. buerhaus told the new mexico organization of nurse executives that today's 110,000-nurse shortage could reach 800,000 nurses by 2020 simply because not enough young people are entering the profession.
at the same time, the aging american population will require more health care than ever before, he said.
new mexico has about a 14 percent vacancy rate for nurses today.
"in 17 years, we'll have about the same number of nurses in the work force as we do today, except they'll be a lot older," buerhaus said.
"why is that important?" he asked. "it's the link between staffing and patient outcomes."
buerhaus is a co-author of a landmark new england journal of medicine article that showed that patient safety and quality of care improve when hospitals employ enough registered nurses.
"the average age of the registered-nurse work force is increasing more than twice as fast as all other occupations in the u.s. work force," buerhaus said.
between 1983 and 1998, registered nurses younger than 30 years decreased 41 percent while the under-30 u.s. work force declined only 1 percent.
"this is a stunning demographic development," he said.
even worse, nursing schools' teachers are aging even faster. between now and 2012, up to 300 instructors per year will become eligible for retirement, making it harder to train the new nurses, buerhaus said.
"the educational pipeline is clogged," he said.
the one thing congress could do immediately to help ease the shortage is fund nursing education, he said.
"they've done nothing," buerhaus said. "not one damn thing. they are the only group that has done nothing."
the national nursing shortage first showed up about 1988 in intensive care units in new mexico and arizona. it became a national problem in the mid-1990s, buerhaus said.
the managed care movement of the 1990s promoted economizing in hospitals. one result was that real wages for registered nurses declined for four straight years during the decade, he said.
hospitals also substituted lower-paid nurses aides and licensed practical nurses for registered nurses until they "realized you could not really substitute" for rns. thus, demand increased for registered nurses.
meanwhile, demand for health care was increasing nationwide. enrollment in and graduation from nursing programs have fallen since 1995 because there are fewer young people in general. in addition, women, who have traditionally filled the nursing ranks, have more employment opportunities than ever, buerhaus said.
"we think hospitals simply ran out of the supply of young rns," he said.
Jul 26, '03
"We think hospitals simply ran out of the supply of young RNs" OH BOY is that guy right. The sad thing is he made a completely accurate statement but he does not completely comprehend it's implications. "Simply ran out" to the healthcare CEO it means that there is nobody left to chew up and spit out, not enough meat for the meat grinder. To the person that made that statement it is merely a demographic thing, no understanding of the bone crunching realities of nursing there at all.
Last edit by oramar on Jul 26, '03