America’s nursing shortage is still making news. We in the profession feel heartened that our message is being shared beyond staff break rooms and professional association meetings. We’ve known for some time that the number of veteran nurses is dwindling, and that fewer men and women are choosing to follow in our footsteps. The ANA and its constituent member associations have been working hard to convince the public, the media, and policymakers at every level that the nursing shortage represents a real health care crisis. Nurses are the foundation of a healthy America. If we don’t do something to draw more people into the profession and keep them there, that foundation will crumble and Americans, whether in need of preventive, acute, or long-term care, will suffer.
We know that many challenges exist within our profession. The good news is that groups outside of nursing are stepping forward to add their concerns to our own. In July, 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report, Projected Supply, Demand, and Shortages of Registered Nurses: 2000– 2020. According to that report, if the shortage goes unchecked, the deficit of RNs is expected to rise from 110,000, or 6%, in the year 2000, to 29% by 2020.
In August, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) released Health Care at the Crossroads: Strategies for Addressing the Evolving Nursing Crisis, a report that puts forth many of the ideas that ANA has promoted for years, including bolstering the nursing education infrastructure and creating organizational cultures of retention by having hospitals adopt the characteristics of hospitals with “Magnet” status, awarded by the ANA’s subsidiary, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
The “Nurse Reinvestment Act,” for which the ANA successfully lobbied, was signed into law last summer. In part, it provides federal funding for scholarships and loan repayments for nurses who practice in shortage areas after they graduate and includes grants to encourage facilities to implement “Magnet” criteria. The law also enables practicing nurses to return to school to increase their levels of education—a factor that could assist in the retention of experienced nurses and help to better meet the needs of a complex patient population.
JCAHO’s recommendations and the passage of the Nurse Reinvestment Act are good first steps. They affirm several of the findings and recommendations that the nursing community issued in April 2002 in Nursing’s Agenda for the Future, a report developed by the ANA and more than 60 other nursing organizations to address the complex, interrelated factors that have created the growing shortage. These actions will benefit both practicing nurses and those who are thinking about becoming part of this great profession.
Yes, there are challenges, but now, more than ever, nurses are coming together to address them. We welcome you to add your voice to ours and join us.
For membership information, call (800) 274-4ANA or go to http://www.nursingworld.org.