Is there really a nursing shortage? 

Over the last decade, hospitals seem to have been paying more attention to patient satisfaction levels in their facilities.  On the surface, this seems to be a very healthy step forward for corporate interests to be so concerned about the contentment of their customers.  The motivation for such focus comes into question however, when the greatest influencer of patient satisfaction is the one thing facilities choose not to address: nurse staffing levels.

According to a recent study released by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, “their findings show that it is the availability of qualified registered nurses in hospitals that affects patient satisfaction most.”  In fact, “The often repeated narrative suggesting that quality deficits in hospitals are due to ‘uncaring’ nurses is not supported by evidence from the NHS’s own survey,” says author Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, Director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania. “Patients value nurses so much that when nurses are in short supply, patients’ overall ratings of their hospitals decline sharply.”

This is very telling, showing that as they are such a source of comfort, the mere presence of nurses is enough to greatly increase the likelihood of a patient’s happiness with the services they are provided.  Obviously, the competence of the entire staff plays a role but having enough nurses present on the unit can already tilt perception in favor for the facility. 

For years we have heard that there are nursing shortages and most overworked caregivers in any given hospital will most likely agree with that statement.  However, students are flocking to nursing schools in great numbers; countless new graduates are spending all their time trying to get in the door of a facility that is choosing to set the criteria by which some very willing workers are kept from jobs in a location that desperately needs help.  These are the same facilities that see staff leaving in droves, not to retire from the profession but rather because of shoddy treatment by management.  Is there really a nursing shortage or are facilities too cheap to pay for adequate staffing levels?  Is there really a nursing shortage or are facilities unable to retain top talent due to internal practices?

According to IndyStar, “Millennials are saving the nursing profession. Facing a potential shortage due to baby boomers retiring, nursing has welcomed an unexpected surge of millennials entering the field.

Those millennials are nearly twice as likely to be nurses as their grandparents’ generation, the baby boomers, a recent Health Affairs study found. This trend has averted a potential workforce crisis and has implications for the future of nursing, said David Auerbach, one of the authors of the study.”

In an article detailing how men are a growing demographic in the nursing profession, the Seattle Times reports that, “researchers also found that economic factors have played a role — a decline in some jobs because of automation, trade and the housing crisis, and a growth in jobs and wages in health care. Nursing is growing much faster than the average occupation, and wages have increased steadily since 1980. The median salary is $68,450, about the same as the median salary for college-educated workers overall.”

So, is there a nursing shortage in the industry or are there actually plenty of nurses and the issue is simply facilities moving slowly to employ them?  In the interests of cost-cutting, facilities may be content with overworked nurses but perhaps when patient satisfaction scores are brought into the equation, hospitals will prove that adequate nurse to patient ratios can be achieved; and are well worth the investment. 

What are your thoughts?  Is there really a shortage of nurses or rather an unwillingness to hire by hospitals?