1. Baker, Kathy A. PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

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Fifteen years ago, predictions suggested nursing was headed for a dire shortage of registered nurses (RNs). That prediction has not yet been realized because of the downturn of the United States economy in 2007-2009 when many baby-boomer nurses elected to continue working past the typical retirement age of 65 years (Auerbach, Buerhaus, & Staiger, 2014). Increased output of new graduates during the last decade from 74,000 in 2002 to more than 180,000 in 2012 has also favorably delayed the predicted shortage (Auerbach, Staiger, Muench, & Buerhaus, 2013).

Kathy A. Baker, PhD,... - Click to enlarge in new windowKathy A. Baker, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

The shortage is not over, however; just delayed. Economists Auerbach et al. (2014) note that the nursing shortage is inevitable due to the number of baby-boomer RNs currently practicing and a trend that suggests retirement for these baby-boomers is actually unpredictable when compared with previous generations of nurses. The good news, however, is that older RNs tend to shift from acute care to nonhospital settings, allowing for outpatient and non-acute care settings to capitalize on the expertise of a seasoned RN workforce (Auerbach et al., 2014).


This trend has powerful implications for our specialty in both positive and negative ways. Our current Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA) demographics reveal that 72.5% of our membership is 50 years or older. Of the remaining membership, 18.9% are 40-49 years of age, 7.7% are 30-39 years of age, and a mere 0.9% are younger than 30 years. For those practicing in acute care settings, there will be a need to actively recruit younger RNs with an interest and passion for endoscopy nursing. Unfortunately, endoscopy nursing is often a best kept secret in many practice settings. Making our departments more familiar to younger colleagues will be crucial for increasing the likelihood that retiring gastrointestinal (GI) nurses will be replaced with younger RNs who have the potential to practice long term in the GI specialty. Limited turnover of nurses who practice continuously in GI nursing will contribute to efficiency and expertise in care delivery that translates to enhanced safety and quality for patients.


Likewise, those who practice in outpatient settings should capitalize on recruiting seasoned acute care GI nurses to consider delaying their full retirement by working in outpatient settings where physical and psychological demands may be less than in the acute care setting. Seasoned GI nurses require less time to be onboarded due to their expertise in procedural care, equipment use, and patient teaching. Their knowledge of infection control and emergency procedures specific to the GI setting can enhance the learning of colleagues with limited experience in acute care settings, ensuring outpatient settings benefit from the resources typically more prevalent in inpatient settings.


These same principles apply to our organization. Regionals should actively recruit younger members who can be mentored and supported to take on leadership roles in the Society. Likewise, the wisdom and expertise of colleagues who have practiced long-term in GI nursing should be garnered to support the vision of regional leaders and collectively sustain the efforts of the regional to meet the needs of members. The expertise of these seasoned colleagues could be collectively garnered to relieve some of the responsibilities of regional leaders while ensuring regional activities and goals benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of vetted colleagues. Often, seasoned colleagues are very willing to share their expertise but much prefer a focused project over a long-term commitment as they near retirement. It's a win-win for all!


Regionals can also support and encourage the growth of younger colleagues by providing opportunities for national exposure through offering scholarships to attend the national SGNA conference, nominating a younger colleague for service on a national committee, encouraging a younger colleague to participate in the SGNA mentoring program, or encouraging participation in the national SGNA Fellowship or Scholar programs. These opportunities not only benefit the local regional but also ensure we will sustain our national organization for the future.


It's clear the nursing shortage is still on the horizon and, as a specialty, we cannot ignore the implications an aging workforce has for the future. Fortunately, trends suggest that the situation is not all gloom and doom. There are many advantages if we tap the commitment and expertise of our seasoned colleagues to mentor and support a new generation of GI nurses. I encourage you to do all you can to identify and recruit talented young RNs to seek opportunities in GI nursing, including membership and opportunities in the SGNA regionals as well as our national organization.


Likewise, take advantage of seasoned GI nurses contemplating retirement from acute care by recruiting them to non-acute care settings, using their wisdom and expertise to impact patient safety and quality care in the outpatient environment. They can also extend the impact of the region beyond elected leadership to accomplish the goals and vision of the regional when utilized to work collaboratively on regional projects, mentoring younger recruits along the way.


We have the opportunity to take a concerning trend and maximize it in a positive way. We cannot afford to ignore the predictions, but we can accentuate the opportunities these developments present for our specialty. I believe GI nursing provides the best of all worlds. We constantly use critical thinking, advanced care skills, procedural expertise, and interprofessional care delivery for patients and families with diverse backgrounds, needs, and expectations. We cannot afford to compromise our gastroenterology nursing specialty without a deliberate plan to address the nursing shortage. We certainly have much to gain if we exploit our strengths along the way. But it will take all of us to actively seek the right opportunities to recruit our colleagues, whether they are still growing in their nursing practice or experts whom we hate to lose. Our future depends on it.




Auerbach D. I., Buerhaus P. I., Staiger D. O. (2014, July 16). Registered nurses are delaying retirement, a shift that has contributed to recent growth in the nurse workforce. Health Affairs. Advance online publication. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2014.0128. Retrieved from[Context Link]


Auerbach D. I., Staiger D. O., Muench U., Buerhaus P. I. (2013). The nursing workforce in an era of health care reform. The New England Journal of Medicine, 368(16), 1470-1472. [Context Link]