Why Is There a Nurse Shortage in the U.S.?
Holly Carter / Thursday, October 21, 2021 / Categories: Health, Work World, Travel

Why Is There a Nurse Shortage in the U.S.?

Nurses play an important role in hospitals and healthcare facilities by advocating for patients and facilitating basic care. They work long shifts at all hours of the day, often without significant breaks. In the United States, there’s been a nursing shortage since 2012, and unfortunately, with the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, this shortage has only further put a strain on the healthcare system.

The nursing shortage in the U.S. is expected to last until 2030 for various reasons. As a travel nursing staffing agency, OneStaff Medical is here to inform you about why the nursing shortage is happening and what can be done to minimize the impact on receiving medical care at healthcare facilities.

4 Reasons for the Nursing Shortage

Many factors contribute to the shortage of nurses in the U.S. As the population in the country grows and the baby boomer generation gets older, there is a higher demand for healthcare services. Unfortunately, the nursing shortage is likely to continue unless these problems are solved.

1.Obstacles in Nursing Education

Nursing students retain a high level of interest in their career path, especially considering the high pay and projected job security that a career in nursing provides. Unfortunately, many education facilities are turning students away or waitlisting them because they lack the faculty and resources to bring proper education.

Many qualified applicants have been turned away because of the insufficient number of clinical sites, faculty members, classroom spaces, and budget constraints in the nursing program. Many faculty members are older and looking to retire, while younger teachers are growing weary of working for a lower pay rate. Many nurses would prefer to stay in a clinical position rather than teach for less money.

Furthermore, students are experiencing a lack of hands-on experience because of a decreased availability of clinical sites. Nurses that lack real-life experience will enter the medical field without the necessary critical understanding and care guidelines they need to know.

Because enrollment rates into nursing school aren’t increasing fast enough to keep up with the high demand for nurses and other nursing specialties, many obstacles in education have contributed to the nursing shortage.

2.Demand on Nurses in the Workplace

Nurses are experiencing higher demand during their day-to-day job. Many healthcare facilities have insufficient staffing, causing higher stress levels and lower job satisfaction for many nurses. Many nursing positions are not retention-optimized, ultimately driving nurses to leave the profession and work somewhere else.

The workplace is also experiencing a change in demographics as many nurses get older and near retirement. Older nurses must leave patients in the care of younger, less experienced staff. For those nurses who aren’t looking to retire right away, they must bring new nursing staff up to speed and guide them through day-to-day tasks.

3.Turnover in Nursing Employment

An aging workforce has also contributed to a larger employee turnover in the workplace. With more nurses retiring, more work is piled onto the nurses that remain. The nursing industry is also predominantly female, so other factors, such as maternity leave, contribute to the nurse shortage as well. After having a baby, many female nurses may even leave the profession and never return.

High turnover rates are also occurring due to ethical dilemmas happening in the workplace. Many nurses express that they’ve experienced workplace bullying, stressful working conditions, and financial stress. They also may feel like they don’t have enough authority to treat and act within the best interest of the patients. When these situations arise, nurses will leave the profession if they aren’t dealt with satisfactorily.

4.Compassion Fatigue

Fewer nurses in the healthcare system also mean that the ones left working are experiencing a higher workload. Nurses now must cover more shifts and work overtime to ensure all patients have been cared for. The combination of being under pressure and working more hours eventually leads to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue, or burnout, can manifest both physically and emotionally for nurses. When nursing staff is unable to take time for themselves, or they experience too much stress while on the job, they begin to grow overly exhausted. These factors also combine with minimal sleep and using high amounts of emotional energy required to care for more patients.

Burnout is not only dangerous for nursing staff but also for patients. Nurses experiencing compassion fatigue can’t provide the same level of care as usual, causing the quality of patient care to decline.

How to Minimize the Nurse Shortage

Although the nursing shortage is predicted to continue for a few more years, there are some measures that both healthcare and educational facilities can take to try to lessen the effects of the shortage.

More Educational Opportunities

Because so many nurses are in demand, nursing programs will need to increase enrollment rates. Educational facilities may need to make it easier for nursing students to receive the proper education and certifications they need in a shorter amount of time.

Online course options are more flexible and make nursing school possible for more people. If educational facilities can add additional funds to faculty and nursing programs and offer a flexible class load, they can educate and allow more students into their programs.

Hands-On Training

To provide top-of-the-line patient care, nurses need experience working in high-stress situations and making fast decisions. Before entering the field, it’s very important for nurses to receive clinical and hands-on training to prepare them for a future nursing position.

Many educational facilities have turned to simulation technology to make up for the lack of clinical space. This technology includes using mannequins, computer programs, or virtual reality to simulate real-life scenarios.

Nursing Leadership

Creating leadership positions gives nurses something to work toward. By offering a higher position with more benefits and a higher salary, healthcare facilities can increase retention rates in their nursing staff. Experienced nurses can provide education and mentoring to younger and newer staff. This will also present a career path to new graduates who are looking to move up in the nursing world.


For nurses who have experienced ethical dilemmas in the workplace, it’s important for healthcare facilities to advocate for change and improved working environments. When workplace issues are handled in a satisfactory manner, nurses will be more willing to stay in their positions because they’ll feel valued.

There should also be regulations regarding how many nurses are needed in certain healthcare facilities, limiting how many hours they can work, and improved staffing practices to boost employee morale, reduce compassion fatigue, and provide a supportive workplace.

How Travel Nursing Helps Minimize the Nurse Shortage

Travel nursing plays a key role in helping to minimize the nursing shortage in the U.S. For many states with higher shortages, healthcare facilities will look for traveling nurses to fill positions on a temporary basis.

Nurses in a travel nurse assignment can step in wherever necessary. Many facilities will need travel nurses to fill short-term needs while they can stabilize, reassess, and hire permanent staff. Organizations can continue to recruit for permanent placements while also knowing that their patients are being cared for with high-quality, reliable care.

Traveling nurses can also offset overtime hours and costs. Healthcare facilities can ease up on how much overtime each staff member must take on, minimizing nurse burnout, retaining nursing staff, and keeping turnover rates to a minimum.

If you’re thinking about becoming a travel nurse, or you’re experiencing burnout in your current nursing position, OneStaff Medical is here for you. We offer a range of travel nursing positions and can work with you to find the ideal assignment. Contact us today at 877-783-1483.

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