The nursing profession has been characterized as ‘recession proof’. That is a good thing for those of us who have chosen this career. Regardless of what is happening in the larger society, health care goods and services will always need to be consumed – babies need to be born and people will continue to get sick and need to access the health care system.
So, what does this mean in terms of the profession and the future? One of the things it means is that for a very short period time, there will ‘appear’ to be less of a nursing shortage, but we must not perceive that during this time, the nursing shortage is over.
Why? Two reasons. First, the demand for nurses has not even started in earnest as the graying of America accelerates. The first of the 77 million Baby Boomers may start to retire next year. This is when the majority of healthcare goods and services is consumed. And secondly, nurses who have stayed in the workforce longer than anticipated will eventually retire and who is going to replace them? More nurses will retire than are entering the workforce. In other words we have not even started feeling the nursing shortage.
We can either rest on the notion that all is well and there is no nursing shortage looming or we can respond with a comprehensive strategy that encompasses these ‘blips’ on the radar. Legislators need to keep nursing first and foremost in mind when crafting healthcare reform and continuing to support legislation for increasing funds for nursing education.
If nursing does not find a way to create innovative strategies for these times, then unfortunately our fate will be dictated by others outside the profession. Let us all work together for new ways of thinking about nursing and better use of these professionals in a time when, even during a lull, they are most in demand.
Susan Lacey is the Director of the Bi-State Nursing Workforce Innovation Center and the Director of Nursing Workforce and Systems Analysis at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri, an ANCC Magnet hospital. For more information, visit www.nursinginnovation.org.