Nursing Shortages and Nursing School Rejections: The Potential Effects on Your Practice

The nursing shortage across the U.S. has been well documented for over a decade now, largely due to the fact that older populations require more healthcare service and there are currently more Americans over the age of 65 than any other time in U.S. history.[1]However, over the last month, several articles and reports have surfaced that have revealed that nursing schools all over the country are rejecting thousands of qualified applicants. What is the reason behind this seemingly contradictory practice? And most relevantly to us, how are the effects of this failure to serve a greater number of potential nurses during a shortage manifesting in safe and legal hospital practices? This post will give an overview of the current phenomenon and look into potential consequences for those concerned with medical malpractice and negligence work.

 

What’s happening?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026 – far faster than the rate of most occupations, which average 7% growth – largely due to the large and aging Baby Boomer population and increase in chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity.[2]In addition to this increased demand, one-third of current nurses will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years, since the biggest cohort of registered nurses, which joined the workforce before the 1970s when career choices for women were more limited, are also aging.[3]

Despite the clear concern these statistics illicit, nursing schools turned away more than 56,000 qualified applicants from undergraduate nursing programs in 2017.[4]Just a decade ago, annual rejections were around 30,000, demonstrating the increased demand, but also the increased competition, causing many potential – and desperately needed – nurses to find other career paths.

 

Why are qualified candidates being rejected?

Competition for nursing program admission exists largely because schools don’t have the resources or number of educators to accommodate them. Insufficient faculty is one of the largest concerns, especially with pressure to adjust class size and decrease student-to-faculty ratios.[5]Increased demand requires increased faculty to serve future nurses, yet the spokesman for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Robert Rosseter, points out that the annual national nursing faculty vacancy rate is over 7%, a rate equivalent to approximately two teachers per nursing school.[6]With many instructors approaching retirement, and the need to address safety and crowded clinical settings with smaller student-to-faculty ratios, trying to hire qualified teachers to fill positions while also attempting to expand programs through creating new faculty positions is very difficult.

Beyond faculty concerns, there isn’t enough available clinical space to train students. While some programs are attempting to expand to new campuses or build partnerships with other hospitals, not all schools have the resources to do so.

 

What will the effects on malpractice/nursing quality be?

Even when sufficiently supported, nurses face a very stressful work environment, so a short-staffed hospital is a recipe for all sorts of mishaps. The fragmented communication, sleep deprivation, and distraction that comes from being spread too thin can lead to medical errors and never events that might land hospitals and medical staff members in malpractice or negligence cases. As the demand for nurses increases and nursing schools are unable to supply that demand, the chance of short-staffed hospitals increases, meaning the chance of medical malpractice cases will increase too.

While nursing schools may be turning out better nurses than ever, the chances that they will be able to perform their best work under these stressful circumstances are not as good as one would hope. On the other hand, if schools were to let in more students and forgo low student-to-faculty ratios and less crowded lab space, students wouldn’t be trained as well, and would then would be more likely to make mistakes. Either way, the effects of this problem will be felt, not only be nurses and patients, but by legal professionals hoping to increase the safety of both parties.

 

There is no easy answer to this problem, but awareness is important. Moving forward, we all must be aware of how changing age demographics in the U.S. are going to take a toll in a variety of ways on a variety of industries. Supporting these industries and nurses in particular will be crucial to the safety, health, and ultimate happiness of Americans, so taking steps towards a more prepared future is critical.

[1]Grant, Rebecca, “The U.S. Is Running Out Of Nurses,” The Atlantic, Feb. 3, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/02/nursing-shortage/459741/

[2]“Registered Nurses: Summary,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 13, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm

[3]Grant, “The U.S. Is Running Out Of Nurses”

[4]Kavilanz, Parija, “Nursing schools are rejecting thousands of applicants – in the middle of a nursing shortage,” CNN,April 30, 2018, http://money.cnn.com/2018/04/30/news/economy/nursing-school-rejections/index.html

[5]Ibid

[6]Ibid

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