Tenure gaps growing in hospitals

As hospitals in the U.S. are grappling with nursing shortages, they are not only facing fewer nurses, but they are also facing a widening skills gap as experienced nurses leave the field, according to MedPage Today.

The Institute of Medicine warned about a shortage of experienced nurses in 2011 in a report on The Future of Nursing, initiated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and recommended that 80 percent of nurses should have at least a bachelor's degree in nursing by 2020 to meet future U.S. healthcare needs as well as improve care quality.

Additionally, according to the American Nurses Association, more than 500,000 seasoned registered nurses anticipate retiring by 2022, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects more than 1 million new registered nurses are needed for expansion and replacement of experienced nurses.

Nursing shortages are not new. However, hospitals have said the COVID-19 pandemic and the latest wave fueled by the delta variant have exacerbated the problem, leading to some retirements earlier than planned and more nurses considering leaving earlier amid stress and challenging working conditions.

And the pace of new nurses is not keeping up with the number retiring, according to Shawna Butler, RN, a nurse economist based in Texas.

"The pipeline of new nurses doesn't keep pace with retirement — and with so much of the experience retiring from the workforce, much of the operational, safety, clinical, and institutional knowledge, history and wisdom is lost," she told MedPage Today.

Beth Wathen, MSN, RN, president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, told the publication new nurses are also leaving the bedside sooner, with some staying at the bedside only a couple years.  

During the pandemic, hospitals have taken various measures to address shortages and attract and retain nurses, such as halting elective surgeries, offering sign-on bonuses and other incentives, bringing in travel nurses, and soliciting federal help. Potential solutions for the future, cited in MedPage Today, include things like improving training opportunities.

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