Nursing Shortage Threatens Patient Care


According to experts, there are 116,000 unfilled nursing positions in US hospitals and around 100,000 are unfilled at nursing homes. The problem is so dire that some hospitals are considering bringing in foreign nurses to help.

Even though the shortage is bad and expected to worsen at the same time the baby boomers are hitting retirement, it is not due to a shortage of people interested in the career. In fact, many schools with nursing programs have waitlists that are a year or more, and tens of thousands are turned away including those looking into master’s degree programs. The problem may lie in a shortage of nursing teachers.

It’s no surprise that many teachers can make more in other aspects of the field than teaching. In nursing, practicing nurses make about $15,000 a year more than their teachers do. In some places in the country, this still is not enough to survive on. President Obama was reportedly alarmed when he found out about the prospect of bringing foreign nurses into the country. Millions of dollars have been included in the stimulus bill to address the health care shortages across the board, and federal grants have been proposed to help nursing colleges.

How this affects patients is disconcerting. A Vanderbilt University study found that almost 7,000 patient deaths and around four million days of hospital care are the result of the shortage of nurses. By increasing the number of nurses, this could be averted. Staffs at the nation’s hospitals are stretched in many areas. This raises the threat of safety lapses and medical errors, such as dispensing the wrong medication, as well as delays. If you’ve ever spent time in an emergency room, then you know the wait is already longer than it should be.

Unless the problem is corrected soon, there will be more cases of medical malpractice and negligence simply because there are not enough people for the jobs.