What’s Really Behind the Nursing Shortage? 1,500 Nurses Share Their Stories (2023)

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January 26, 2022

If the past two years have taught the world anything, it's that nurses are NOT okay. The truth is that despite the 7 pm cheers, the commercials thanking nurses for their dedication and selflessness, and the free food from major retailers – the overwhelming majority of nurses are burnt out, underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated.

With millions of nurses worldwide, Nurse.org wanted to truly understand the current state of nursing and give nurses a voice to share their thoughts, feelings, and apprehensions about the nursing profession. We surveyed nearly 1,500 nurses to find out how they felt about the past year and get to the real reasons behind the nursing shortage. The responses were heartbreaking, but not without hope.

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What’s Really Behind the Nursing Shortage? 1,500 Nurses Share Their Stories (1)

What We Found: Nurses Are Struggling

Nurses are struggling. Regardless of practice specialty, age, or state of practice – the answers were all the same. Nurses, NPs, and APRNs are all struggling and need help.

Only 12% of the nurses surveyed are happy where they are and interestingly, 36% would like to stay in their current positions but changes would need to be made for that to happen. Nurses report wanting safe staffing, safer patient ratio assignments, and increased pay in order to stay in their current roles.

What’s Really Behind the Nursing Shortage? 1,500 Nurses Share Their Stories (2)

Nurses didn’t hold back when discussing their feelings regarding the current state of nursing:

  • 87% feel burnt out
  • 84% are frustrated with administrators
  • 84% feel they are underpaid
  • 83% feel their mental health has suffered
  • 77% feel unsupported at work
  • 61% feel unappreciated
  • 60% have felt uncomfortable having to work outside of their comfort zone in the past year
  • 58% of nurses have felt frustrated with their patients
  • 58% of nurses have felt unsafe at work in the past year

The numbers don’t lie. It’s astounding that a profession continually recognized for its compassion, strength, and resilience is suffering. And the suffering is universal.

One nurse responded with the following, “I have been an RN for 34 years and in my specialty of nursing for 31 years and I am burned out.”

What Is the Nursing Shortage and Why is it Happening?

You’ve likely heard about the nursing shortage, but what does that mean and why is it happening?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030. Approximately 194,500 openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, over the decade. However, this number was projected prior to the pandemic, and before the mass exodus of bedside clinical nurses. As a result, it’s likely substantially lower than what the real demand for nurses will look like.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) reports that the increased need for nurses spans beyond the current pandemic. In fact, they sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on September 1, 2021, urging the country to declare the current and unsustainable nurse staffing shortage to be a national crisis.

(Video) Nursing Shortage

The ANA attributes the needs for thousands of nurses to the following:

  • The Affordable Care Act made access to health care services possible for more people
  • Increased focus “primary care, prevention, wellness, and chronic disease management”
  • Aging baby-boomer population
  • Growing interest in community-based care

Why Are Nurses Really Leaving The Bedside?

However, those stats don’t address some of the systemic issues nurses face every day, particularly in the midst of a pandemic. That’s why we asked nurses why they are really leaving the bedside.

What we heard is that, overwhelmingly, the number one reason nurses want to leave the bedside is because of unsafe staffing ratios. This leads to a never-ending cycle of shortages: nurses face unsafe staffing ratios so they decide to leave the bedside, this results in even fewer nurses available to care for patients, so the downward cycle continues.

What’s Really Behind the Nursing Shortage? 1,500 Nurses Share Their Stories (3)

Essentially, nurses are dealing with an increased workload with fewer resources. Typically, pre-covid ICU nurses would experience a 1:1 or 2:1 patient-to-nurse ratio. Now ICU nurses throughout the country are experiencing a 3:1 or 4:1 patient-to-nurse ratio which exacerbates staff burnout and unsafe nursing practices.

One nurse reported, “With increased patient census, staffing ratios are very unsafe especially with high acuity patients. Having 4+ critically ill patients not only puts licenses at risk but the patients do not benefit at all. We’re just running around doing tasks, not providing adequate care.”

Unsafe Staffing Ratios Are Just Part of the Problem

While a big piece of the puzzle, unsafe staffing issues are, unfortunately, one part of a long list of issues plaguing nurses today.

Nurses are leaving the bedside because of issues like:

  • Inadequate staffing ratios
  • Not getting equal pay for equal experience
  • Not receiving hazard pay during a pandemic
  • Not having adequate back up
  • An inability to take breaks, sick days, or even turn down extra shifts

To learn more about the nursing shortage and learn ways you can get involved, check out the full report here.

Despite All This, Nurses Still Have Hope

70% of nurses still think that nursing is a great career and 64% still think that new nurses should join the profession.

What’s Really Behind the Nursing Shortage? 1,500 Nurses Share Their Stories (4)

“If you’re a student considering becoming a nurse, please know that you are not walking into a doomed profession. You will never meet anyone who is more determined, more resourceful, or more ready to jump in and lend a helping hand than a nurse."

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--– Nurse Alice Benjamin, MSN, APRN, ACNS-BC, FNP-C, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and Correspondent at Nurse.org

If you’re a nurse, you know that nursing isn’t just a profession, it’s a calling. It’s devastating to see that so many nurses are suffering in their quest to heal and give care, but it’s heartening to know they are not without hope.

What Nurses Need Now

If you’re a nurse, know that your job is simply to put yourself first. If we want to solve the nursing shortage (and we do!), it can't happen without nurses recognizing that they are NOT the problem.

"The problem is not with nurses or nursing; the problem is that nurses have been so busy taking care of others that no one has taken care of them. And we’re here to change that--and by entering the nursing profession, you will be part of the solution too”

– Nurse Alice Benjamin, MSN, APRN, ACNS-BC, FNP-C, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and Correspondent at Nurse.org

The truth is nurses need a lot more to be incentivized to stay practicing clinically at the bedside. Nurses reported needing:

  • Higher pay
  • Safe nurse-to-patient ratios
  • Hazard pay
  • REAL mental health resources
  • Adequate staff support
  • Support programs for new nurses

4 Ways to Support Nurses and Take Action

While we may not be able to make this change at an individual level, collectively, we can amplify the voice of nurses and shed some light on the issues that they are facing every day. Together, we have the power to create meaningful, lasting change for current and future nurses. Here's how to get involved:

1. Sign the Pledge

Sign the pledge seen below and encourage your friends & colleagues to do the same. While you’re at it, print it out and post it in your break room.

What’s Really Behind the Nursing Shortage? 1,500 Nurses Share Their Stories (5)

2. Spread the Word

Change can’t happen unless we get the word out about what’s really going on. Share what you’ve heard and what you’ve experienced, and encourage others to do the same.

3. Contact Your Elected Officials

It’s time for elected officials to stand up for nurses. Write them a letter. Call their office. Demand change for nurses. Click here to get the contact information for your local and state Officials.

4. Download and Share the Report

Get even more in-depth insights into what’s going on with the state of nursing and the issues that nurses face today, click here to download the full State of Nursing report or read about the best and worst specialties for nurses during COVID.

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“If you are a current nurse considering leaving the profession, be assured that you are not alone in your struggles. If all you’ve had the energy for is keeping your head down and getting through your shifts, sleeping, and getting up to do it all over again, know that you are doing enough. It’s not your responsibility to solve the nursing shortage.”

– Nurse Alice Benjamin, MSN, APRN, ACNS-BC, FNP-C, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and Correspondent at Nurse.org

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What is really behind the nursing shortage? ›

Facts About the U.S. Nursing Shortage

More than half of current RNs are over the age of 50. In 2021, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 91,000 qualified applicants due to a lack of faculty, education space, and resources.

What are the two main reasons for the nurse shortage? ›

The nursing profession continues to face shortages due to a lack of potential educators, high turnover, and inequitable workforce distribution. The causes related to the nursing shortage are numerous and issues of concern.

What workplace factor has been found to contribute to the nursing shortage? ›

Pay Disparities. Nurses are paid less than other professionals, contributing to the nursing shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2021 was $77,600.

What was one of the earliest documented nursing shortages resulted from? ›

One of the earliest major nursing shortages occurred in the 1930s when other industries in the United States were gripped by historic unemployment during the Great Depression.

Where is the highest nursing shortage? ›

California has the worst nursing shortage in the United States. It's predicted that by 2030, California will be in need of over 44,000 nurses. Other states with major hospital staff shortages include New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Arizona.

Has there ever not been a nursing shortage? ›

Except for a handful of states, there are sufficient numbers of registered nurses to meet the needs of the country's patients, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report on the supply and demand of the nursing workforce from 2014 to 2030. Some states will even have surpluses.

What percentage of nurses have left the profession? ›

Where nurses work matters. About 36% of nurses who work in hospitals plan to stick with the profession but are looking for a new employer. Only 15% of hospital nurses planned to "continue working as I am," AMN reported. Nurses in other settings such as medical offices were more likely to stay in their position.

What are two causes for the expected increase in demand for RNs? ›

The aging population necessitates increasing the level of care patients require. A nursing faculty shortage capping pre-licensure admission capacity. Nursing burnout.

Which nurse is more prone to burnout? ›

Critical care nurses tend to suffer the highest rates of burnout. Critical care specialties include the emergency department (ED) and intensive care unit (ICU).

Why is there a nursing shortage 2023? ›

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed these shortages to crisis levels, with demand outweighing supply nearly everywhere.

How long will the nursing shortage last? ›

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country will need more than 203,000 new registered nurses every year through 2026 to fill the gap in care left by a retiring workforce. The average age of a nurse right now is 51.

Why was there a shortage of nurses in 1918? ›

In 1918, because of the deployment of large numbers of graduate nurses to U.S. military camps at home and abroad, and the failure of the profession to utilize trained African American nurses, the country was experiencing a severe shortage of professional nurses.

What caused the nursing shortage in 2012? ›

According to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing report, “U.S. nursing schools turned away 79,659 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2012 due to insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.” Once again, ...

Who owns the Nclex? ›

NCLEX examinations are developed and owned by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. (NCSBN).

Where is the hardest place to work as a nurse? ›

Most Stressful Nursing Positions
  • Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses. ICU is an extremely high-pressure environment and these nurses work with patients who have significant injuries and disease with added morbidity risks. ...
  • Emergency Department nurses. ...
  • Neonatal ICU. ...
  • OR nursing. ...
  • Oncology Nursing. ...
  • Psychiatric Nursing.
Jan 27, 2021

Which state in the US has the most nurses? ›

California contains the most professionally active registered nurses in the U.S. with 337,738 RNs, according to a ranking from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Which state do nurses make the most? ›

In the United States overall, the average registered nurse salary is $82,750 and the median (50th percentile) is $77,600. California, with RN salaries averaging $124,000, is the highest-paying state for nurses as of May 2021 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Is nursing shortage getting better? ›

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Projections 2021-2031, the Registered Nursing (RN) workforce is expected to grow by 6% over the next decade. The RN workforce is expected to grow from 3.1 million in 2021 to 3.3 million in 2031, an increase of 195,400 nurses.

Why are nurses short staffed? ›

Short-staffed shifts occur when the census – the number of admitted patients – surpasses a unit's maximum capacity per nurse set by standards of quality and safety. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in nearly every department of every hospital.

What will happen if the nursing shortage continues? ›

Impact on Health Care

Apart from the financial costs, lack of adequate nurses has an inevitable negative impact on the quality of care received by the patients. There is a direct correlation between patient mortality (i.e., risk of death) and shortage of nurses.

What is the average career length of a nurse? ›

Why is it that the average RN career length is only nine years? Incredible Health.

Why are healthcare workers quitting? ›

Higher acuity levels, increased patient volumes, and continued staffing challenges are key contributors — all of which prompt increased turnover, drive decisions to leave the profession, and pose care quality and safety risks.

How many nurses quit after 1 year? ›

85% of nurses plan to leave hospital roles 1 year from now: Survey. Becker's Healthcare: Hospital.

What are the 3 biggest causes of nurse turnover? ›

  • RNs suffer from a lack of role clarity and low sense of control over job performance. ...
  • Nurses suffer from poor communication with management around critical issues. ...
  • RNs do not receive adequate recognition or rewards for accomplishments.

How can we solve the nursing shortage? ›

  1. 1 | Listening to Nurses Concerns. ...
  2. 2 | Prioritizing Workplace Culture Increases Retention. ...
  3. 3 | Prioritizing Nurse Retention Levels. ...
  4. 4 | Increasing Diversity in the Nursing Student Body. ...
  5. 5 | Addressing the Need for More Nurse Educators. ...
  6. 6 | Using Innovation to Address the Nursing Shortage.

What is the largest profession in healthcare? ›

Nursing is the nation's largest healthcare profession, with nearly 4.2 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide. Of all licensed RNs, 84.1% are employed in nursing.

What is the most stressful nursing field? ›

The most stressful nursing jobs include ICU nurse, ER nurse, and NICU nurse. In these roles, nurses work in an intense environment with high stakes. They manage emergency situations and care for critically ill patients. Other stressful nursing jobs include OR nursing, oncology nursing, and psychiatric nursing.

What type of nurse is the least stressful? ›

Institutional Nurses

These nurses administer more basic care and typically don't have to work long hours and overnight shifts, so this field of nursing tends to be low-stress. Even with less excitement, these nurses find fulfillment in providing basic and family care to those in need.

Which nurses have highest job satisfaction? ›

Happiest Nursing Jobs
  • School Nurse. Nurses in schools are available to help care for students who are presenting with an illness or who require assistance with medication administration for a previously diagnosed condition. ...
  • Labor and Delivery Nurse. ...
  • Case Management Nurse. ...
  • Nurse Educator. ...
  • Parish Nurse. ...
  • Travel Nurse.
Aug 26, 2022

What is the nurse update for 2023? ›

2023 nursing healthcare trends will be led by the fallout of a momentous nursing shortage and growing technological changes. 2023 should also bring a renewed focus on nurses' mental health, wearable medical devices, and a rise in virtual medicine.

Is being a nurse worth it 2023? ›

Yes, becoming a nurse is worth it for many students. Nursing is a popular career path because nursing skills are needed in a variety of settings.

Why do so many nursing students drop out? ›

Some of the common reasons nurses drop out of nursing school include poor time management skills, overwhelming stress, bad study habits, and difficulty taking the new NCLEX-style questions on exams.

Will nurse pay increase in 2023? ›

The amount of increase depends on the facility, but a 3-5% raise is standard. In addition to annual pay increases, more hospitals and employers are offering sign-on bonuses to nurses, particularly in areas experiencing acute shortages.

What is the outlook for nursing shortage? ›

A shortage of RNs is estimated to exist in 2022. RN education enrollments are projected to surpass pre-pandemic levels within the next two years, which will lead to a closing of the shortage by 2029.

How many nurses do we need by 2030? ›

According to the report, as many as 13 million more nurses may be needed by 2030; the world's current nursing workforce totals approximately 28 million. The report explains that taking action to sustain and retain workers could minimize the shortage.

How did the nursing shortage start? ›

The Beginning of the Shortage

This is exactly what happened in the mid-1930s, when several technological, economic, and health care-related events combined to increase the demand for registered nurses and to lay the groundwork for a shortage.

Were there female nurses in the 1700s? ›

Many women as well as men served as nurses during the Revolutionary War. The Second Continental Congress, heeding George Washington's advice to establish a means of caring for wounded and sick soldiers, authorized the formation of hospitals. Nurses were not always easy to hire.

Why are there so many female nurses? ›

Many females flock to this profession because of their inherent capacity to care for another human being. Nurses are often seen as caring, compassionate, patient, and understanding. And nursing thrives on a woman's instinct to nurture.

Why are nurses quitting? ›

Many nurses are leaving the profession due to the recognition of their own mental health. Nursing is a mentally exhausting career to be in. For many nurses, they are put into difficult situations and often have little time to process or cope.

How bad is the nursing shortage in the United States? ›

The national nursing shortage dates back decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it to crisis levels. One study predicts that, in the next two years, there will be a shortage of up to 450,000 bedside nurses in the U.S. In countries around the world, medical workers are pleading for more support.

Will there still be a nursing shortage in 2025? ›

Researchers estimated that the US will have a 10 to 20 percent nursing gap by 2025 as the number of patients needing care exceeds the number of nurses. The RN supply could potentially see a low of 2.4 million, while the RN demand could be a low of 2.8 million nurses.

Which state has the hardest Nclex exam? ›

None. There is no “easy” state to take the NCLEX. The NCLEX is a national exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Because it's national, the NCLEX will be the same regardless of what state you choose to take it in.

What is the income of NCLEX? ›

How much does a Nclex Rn make? As of May 18, 2023, the average annual pay for a Nclex Rn in the United States is $109,217 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $52.51 an hour. This is the equivalent of $2,100/week or $9,101/month.

How many times can you take NCLEX? ›

If you happen not to pass the exam, you can retake it after 45 days. And if you are wondering how often you can take the NCLEX, the NCSBN retake policy allows for a retake eight times a year, ensuring 45 exam-free days between each test.

Which factor contributes to the nursing shortage in the United States quizlet? ›

The nursing shortage is limited primarily to the United States. Downsizing for cost containment by hospitals contributed to the shortage. The use of unlicensed assistive personnel helped to supplement staffing shortages. Increasing the supply of nurses is an easy resolution to the shortage.

What percentage of nurses leave the profession? ›

Per the data, 4.2% (or an estimated 33,811) of licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses left the workforce in the past two years—an issue compounded by “considerable and somewhat unprecedented disruptions” to prelicensure nursing education programs during the past few years.

How many nurses are needed by 2025? ›

The health care industry could be short 2.1 million nurses by 2025, according to an analysis from The Josh Bersin Co. and Eightfold, in today's bite-sized hospital and health industry news from California, Minnesota, and Mississippi.

How does nursing shortage lead to burnout? ›

The shortage causes understaffing and overcrowding in emergency rooms, hospitals, and other medical facilities. To help fill the gaps caused by the shortage, nurses may end up extending themselves too far and working more shifts than they're physically and emotionally capable of.

How long is the nursing shortage expected to last? ›

According to the United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast published in the September/October 2019 issue of the American Journal of Medical Quality, a shortage of registered nurses is projected to spread across the country through 2030.

Are nurses always going to be in demand? ›

For years, experts in the healthcare field have sounded the alarm on the high demand for nurses nationwide. Based on projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the country will need additional 203,200 registered nurses (RNs) each year from now through 2031.

What states produce the most nurses? ›

The top five states that have the current highest employment rates for nurses are:
  • California (274,650)
  • Texas (207,810)
  • New York (180,730)
  • Florida (174,710)
  • Pennsylvania (139,480)


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