NURSING SHORTAGE: Problem Expected to Worsen
The nation's nursing shortage will only get worse if left unchecked, according to a study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. The study predicts that by 2010, more than 40% of all nurses will be older than 50, and by 2020, the number of registered nurses will fall short of demand by 20%. The "double whammy of older and fewer nurses" will strike just as the country's 78 million aging baby boomers "start celebrating their 65th birthday." Researchers say the shortage is, in part, because fewer young women have entered the nursing field over the past two decades. Citing difficult working environments and low pay, some women have decided to go to medical school or entered another field. According to study co-author David Auerbach of Harvard University, today's average starting salary for a registered nurse is $35,000, capping at just $47,000. The shift of potential nurses into other fields has left few who can replace older nurses. In 1998, the average age for a nurse was 42, up from 37 in 1983. Adding to the problem are nurse layoffs by the nation's health care providers in an attempt to cut costs, increasing the burden for a small pool of nurses. Researchers say the problem could eventually "erode the quality of care in hospitals and nursing homes" nationwide. John Rother, legislative director for the AARP, predicts that the shortage will force nursing homes and hospitals to increase pay rates for experienced nurses. But, he warns, such a salary hike could translate into "a bigger health care bill for consumers," pushing more patients to seek care from technicians or aides rather than trained nurses (Fackelmann, USA Today, 6/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.