What strategies can we use to fight the nursing shortage?

We are frequently told to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. The sentiment of a fading generation that refuses to meet the current generation halfway, or anyway.

Now, according to a new study by one of America’s top financial institutions, in a minimum of two years, there will be a significant shortage of healthcare professionals.

The implications of this report are damning, but if nothing changes then there are going to be a huge number of people requiring care that will be unable to receive it.

Soon things will have to change or those requiring care will have to pick themselves up by their bootstraps.

What exactly does a shortage mean?

Let’s make one thing clear. A huge barrier to entry is the current state of student loans. Despite the number of available courses, degrees, certificates, doctorates, and even fast track online nursing programs, the fact remains that this educational necessity is vastly crippling to many potential students.

And while student loans exponentially increase the likelihood of getting into a good university and a good course, student loans are just devastating financially. Lots of people take out one of these loans and then find that the cloud never leaves.

This is just one in a variety of issues, but a huge factor is also longer life spans owing to medical and technological advances. Because of this, older generations are living longer, meaning that they’re requiring longer ongoing care for the chronic conditions they suffer.

However, the nurses offering that care are aging into retirement before the patient dies. This means that while the patient who requires constant care is still living, the nurse responsible for them has retired, and there’s just simply not enough new blood to fill the void.

Combined with an innately stressful job, the level of personal sacrifice required to work it, violent and abusive patients, gendered and racial pay gaps, and burnout – people just don’t want to be nurses anymore. People are quitting en masse, and it’s starting to show.

The Mercer US healthcare labor market report

Mercer is a financial advisory body that operates globally and has been operating for more than 75 years. It is a business that offers advice and digital solutions to assist companies and organizations with risk management, as well as the needs of their clients’ employees.

In 2021, Mercer carried out a study that found some truly frightening trends which led to the following four conclusions:

  1. There will be a shortage of labor in the low-income wage sector, limiting access to home care.
  2. Primary care will more often be provided by non-physicians to account for this discrepancy.
  3. Meanwhile, the south and southwest will likely experience a surplus of nursing talent, while other areas fall short.
  4. Finally, a six-figure hiring rush for mental health professionals will take place in 2026.

As mentioned earlier, this report was done in 2021 and was expected to occur in the next 5-10 years. That means, at the time of writing/reading this article, in the best-case scenario people requiring primary care will have difficulty finding properly qualified carers in just two more years.

What do we do?

There’s no sugar-coating this, the situation is bad. We aren’t there yet but we’re right around the corner. For too long people have been scared away from tertiary education because of the costs, they’re scared away from nursing because of the pressure, and they’re frightened and burned out by the sheer weight of it all. That’s not even taking into account the very real dangers of Vicarious Trauma.

This isn’t something that’s going to go away by just “getting over it.” These issues aren’t with a lazy generation, it’s with a generation that’s living longer than our society has ever experienced, it’s with an already overwhelmed healthcare workforce, it’s with logistics, and money, a lack of sexual and racial equality, and lack of educational opportunity.

Things have to change. Student loans need to be removed from the free market, nursing staff need easier and priority access to mental health support, and the government needs to subsidize and offer incentives for students studying nursing qualifications.

We need to raise the wages of these professionals, and we need to better protect our healthcare staff. We have to offer incentives and make it easier for people living where there’s a surplus of talent, to move to areas where there’s a deficit of it. We need to address the pay gap.

If things don’t change, and change now, things are going to get very bad, very soon; and no amount of bootstrap pulling will fix it.