1. Alexander, Mary MA, RN, CRNI(R), CAE INS

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We all know there's a nursing shortage. It has been a problem for so long that it has almost become a cliche. But we also know that a shortage of nurses means that our patients do not get the care they need and deserve. Each and every nurse should be responsible for taking action to relieve the shortage.

Fugure. Mary Alexand... - Click to enlarge in new windowFugure. Mary Alexander, MA, RN, CRNI(R), CAE INS Chief Executive Officer Editor, Journal of Infusion Nursing

A number of factors contribute to the shortage:


* Changing demographics. The US population is growing and aging, and the need for nurses in the next 20 years will soar.


* More career choices for women. In the past 30 years, a number of career opportunities have opened up for women who, in the past, might have opted for a career in nursing.


* A serious shortage of nursing school faculty. Many qualified nursing school applicants are being turned away (41,683 in 2005)1 because of an insufficient number of nursing faculty members.


* Aging of the nursing population. As fewer nurses enter the profession, the average age of a registered nurse is rising, to 46.8 years of age in 2004, up from 45.2 in 2000.2


* High burnout rates and job dissatisfaction. In a vicious cycle, the nursing shortage leads to overwork and burnout, which leads to an even greater lack of nurses.



It will take a nationwide partnership, including federal and state governments, colleges and universities, hospitals and clinical facilities, healthcare businesses and nonprofits, and individual nurses, to solve the problem. Every nurse has something to contribute.


As nurses, we can begin to work toward a solution by promoting our role as valuable members of the healthcare team. Even though, year after year, nurses are rated by the public as the most trusted profession, we must do a better job of explaining what nurses do for patients and what it means to be a nurse.


Nurses are well-educated, autonomous professionals who work with people of all ages, in a variety of settings. We possess a broad body of knowledge in a number of disciplines, as evidenced by the large number of nursing specialties. Our work takes place not only in hospitals, but also in homes, clinics, long-term care facilities, research centers, universities, and industry. There are a number of roles available to nurses, among them caregiver, educator, entrepreneur, author, researcher, and corporate representative. Celebrate and promote the wide variety of professional opportunities open to nurses.


The lack of nursing faculty is a major factor in the shortage. But that can be changed if nurses at educational institutions develop flexible, non-PhD programs that will encourage nurses to become faculty, which will allow more qualified applicants to enter nursing schools.


Nurses sometimes leave the profession because they are burned out or unsatisfied with their work. A remedy to that problem is to support your nursing colleagues. Keep the lines of communication open, encourage professional growth, mentor a younger nurse, develop a team concept at your workplace. Making your work environment more professional, as well as more enjoyable, is a great way to retain nursing staff.


Finally, you can support nursing education by making a contribution to the Gardner Foundation Education Scholarship (visit for information). This scholarship was created to support and recognize a commitment to continuing education. Your donation will help a nurse climb the ladder of educational and professional development, perhaps encouraging her or him to take up the challenge of educating other nurses.


As nurses we need to work together to ensure that our profession remains strong, and that we continue to be essential members of the healthcare team. It's important not only to us as nurses, but also for our patients who count on us to care for them.


Mary Alexander




American Association of Colleges of Nursing. "2005-2006 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing." Available at: Accessed September 1, 2006. [Context Link]


Health Resources and Services Administration. "2004 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses." Available at Accessed September 5, 2006. [Context Link]