Nursing demand higher than supply

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, October 9, 2012



The demand for nurses far outweighs the supply, a gap that is expected to grow much larger as nursing school enrollment struggles to keep up with demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the registered nursing workforce occupation in terms of job growth through 2020, with the number of employed nurses rising from 2.74 million in 2010 to 3.45 million in 2020. In addition to 712,000 new job openings, the department predicted 495,000 replacement hirings, bringing the total number of nursing job openings to 1.2 million by 2020.

However, nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand for registered nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that U.S. nursing schools turned away 75,587 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2011 because of an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space and budget challenges.

Alabama nursing programs – including those found locally – are hampered by the same challenges. While several have grown in recent years, officials claim they are limited on future growth.

At LBW Community College, there is a waiting list to get into the nursing program, said LBWCC President Dr. Herb Riedel.

“LBWCC offers several types of programs related to the medical field, and nursing is one of the strongest,” Riedel said. “A maximum of 32 students are accepted into the four-semester practical nursing program in Opp each semester, so it is common to have more than 90 students at any one time. We currently have a waiting list for summer semester.”

There has also been a push nationwide for registered nurses to continue their education, at least earning a bachelor’s degree. The Institute of Medicine’s report “The Future of Nursing,” released in October 2010, called for increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce to 80 percent by 2020. The report recognizes how complicated the health care system has become and the need for nurses to have more than two years of education.

At Andalusia Regional Hospital, there are between eight and 10 open nursing positions.

“Our greatest need is experienced RNs (registered nurses),” said Kaci Perry, ARH human resources director. “The need for nurses will never end. The need may not be as great at times, but there will always be a need. Today we have a need for 8 -10 full-time, experienced RNs.”

At Mizell Memorial Hospital, the need is also there, said Jana Wyatt, hospital CEO.

“Right now, we’re probably better staffed than in years,” Wyatt said. “But, with that said, we always have a vacancy for nurses.

“I think we’re lucky in the fact that we have a college in our backyard producing quality nurses,” she said, speaking of LBWCC. “I think that may be one reason why we (in Opp) don’t have a shortage.

“I will say that nursing is definitely a field where as an employee, you will always be needed,” she said. “So there is job security, not to mention it’s a rewarding profession, as well.”

Nursing shortages tend to go through cycles, based on current events, advances in technology and changes in the delivery of care.

The nursing demand generally is also tied to the economy. When the economy slumped, older nurses who had planned to retire remained in the workforce and some working part-time moved up to full-time; however, as the economy slowly improves, nurses will retire, creating more openings. In addition, the Affordable Care Act will provide access to care to an additional 30 million to 40 million people and that, coupled with an aging population, will create a larger demand for nurses, officials agreed.