Nurses needed more than ever

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 4, 2003

There is a nursing shortage approaching. When its full effect is felt by the year 2020 the citizens of Virginia, regardless of age, will feel a major impact. A nursing shortage…is it that serious? Sure, there has been an occasional editorial about the issue, local politicians may discuss it when addressing a medical group a time or two and local AM &uot;talk&uot; radio shows may have a caller about it during an &uot;open mike&uot; on medical issues. But there is a crisis coming and multiple sectors of the community need to be involved in the solution including government, the education establishment, insurance companies, and the medical establishment.

The &uot;numbers&uot; speak for themselves and they affect not only the readership of The Suffolk News-Herald, but everyone in the Commonwealth. Four key issues put the accent on the problem:

— Current nurse-to-population ratio

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— Average age of nurses In active practice

— Discontent within nursing

— An inability to meet RN faculty needs

Virginia’s elderly population growth prediction

According to the Virginia Partnership for Nursing, our state is ranked 39th among all 50 states regarding nurse-to-population ratio.

The ratio of registered nurses to population in Virginia breaks down to this. There are 711 nurses per 100,000 people. This is considerably lower than neighboring states – Maryland (856/100,000) and North Carolina (858/100, 000). The national average is 758/100,000.

Nursing workforce is aging. The average age of currently working registered nurses in Virginia is 45. In fact 16 percent of all registered nurses working are 55 or older and the median age of nurse practitioners is 46 and 50 for clinical nurse specialists. These numbers do not bode well for the future as more reach retirement age.

With all these issues coming to a head the future for Virginia is looking bleak. Consider the following statistics taken collectively.

First, by 2020 Virginia will experience a 36 percent deficit in the number of nurses required by health care employers

Second, Virginia’s population of older adults will grow at twice the national average in the next 10 years. People over 65 make up 11 percent of total population, but 35 percent of hospital population.

After reviewing all the issues discussed earlier you would think the solution would be to just &uot;push&uot; more students through nursing school. That’s a good idea except that schools are having a terrible time recruiting qualified faculty members. The reasons, well as described above experienced nurses are needed everywhere. There is increased competition everywhere for potential faculty candidates. In addition some schools have identified that there is inadequate training of faculty applicants as educators. This compounds the problem.

One more sobering thought….the national picture is not much brighter…one million new nurses will be needed by the year!