The nursing crisis
The country is heading towards a health care crisis. No, this is not an article about Obamacare or recent changes the GOP has made (or failed to make) to the overall system. Insurance and coverage remain major problems for the US going forward, but this article is about a different issue: nurses.
You may not think much about nurses unless you’re sick, but nurses play a pretty major role in providing health care. For some, nurses are almost the only medically trained professional they encounter for most of their lives. With the nurse stations at CVS and Walgreens, it’s now possible to get most small medical complaints seen by a nurse instead of heading to a doctor’s office.
The problem is this: we don’t have enough nurses, and it looks like we’re going to have a very serious decline in the future.
At the moment, the average age of a registered nurse is in the late-40s. Think of another profession where that’s the case—there aren’t many. That number suggests that America’s nurses are aging and their numbers aren’t being replenished by younger applicants and novices.
Why is this happening?
It’s hard to be sure just how serious the problem is right now and also why it’s happening in the first place. One primary point to both questions is that our health care system is just pretty screwed up. It’s complicated, much more so than systems that are nationalized in other countries. We have dozens of major insurance companies, private and public hospitals, charity clinics, and plenty of other forms of medical service. Much of the health care system, such as Medicaid, is overseen not by the federal government but by each state. That means there are fifty different systems in use for Medicaid alone.
What all of this means, in aggregate, is that it is hard to know exactly what the nursing situation looks like with all those different factors to consider. It is clear we are suffering from a shortage, but it is hard to say beyond that.
This complex system (and one that is always in threat of changing drastically at any moment) is one reason many are not choosing nursing as a career. While being a doctor is sure to bring in a good income and some stability no matter what happens to the laws of the land, that isn’t necessarily the case with nurses.
Another issue is how often nurses are expected to work beyond their set hours in order to keep hospital budgets in line. Nurses can end up working before and after shifts with no compensation just to avoid the hospital paying overtime.
Again, this is complicated by the public and private nature of hospitals with many expected to earn profits for investors while others have different budgetary concerns.
Regardless of the cause and immediate nature of the issue, we are heading towards a crisis in nursing in the future. That’s just one more reason to develop a more cohesive and permanent solution to America’s health care problems.