By one estimate, there are over 3 million nurses in this country. Nursing is one of our fastest growing occupations. Yet, that still may not be enough to meet demand. While there is debate on the subject, many believe we are experiencing a nursing shortage that will only intensify in the future. According to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we could see up to 1.2 million vacancies in the registered nursing field between 2014 and 2022. Researchers at Vanderbilt University hold that by 2025 the shortage could be twice as large as any time since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.
An Aging Population
A chief factor driving potential nursing shortages is an aging population. By 2030 our senior population will have increased by 75%, so that one in five Americans will be senior citizens. In 2050, estimates hold that 88.8 million people will be over the age of sixty five. It is inevitable that the older we get, the greater our risk of needing medical care. Concurrently, nurses themselves are beginning to retire. About a million are over the age of fifty, which means one third of all nurses are eligible for retirement in the next ten to fifteen years. Nearly 700,000 may leave the labor force by 2024.
The Need for Diversity
Another concerning demographic is the lack of diversity in the nursing profession. While the situation has been improving, a 2013 survey from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) found that nurses from minority backgrounds make up only 19% of registered nurses. In contrast, people from ethnic or racial minority groups were 37% of the population in 2012. Also lingering is the outdated idea that nursing is a “female occupation." Certainly the number of male nurses has been increasing as this stereotype breaks down, but even the more optimistic estimates put men at only 9.65% of all registered nurses.
The HRSA Nursing Workforce Diversity Program
One solution is to increase recruitment of students from backgrounds who are underrepresented in the nursing field. This can help meet the need for future demand, provide career opportunities for applicants and result in more culturally sensitive care for patients. The Health Resources and Services Administration is offering an estimated $24 million in grants to programs that provide stipends or scholarships to help underrepresented students obtain nursing degrees. Bridge or degree completion programs, accelerated programs, pre-entry preparation, advanced education and retention activities all qualify. Access abstracts of previous recipients for more information on individual programs.
Eligible applicants are accredited nursing schools, including community colleges, academic health centers, state or local governments, Native American tribes and tribal organizations, faith and community based organizations and other entities deemed appropriate. Funding preference will be given to applicants with projects that benefit rural or underserved populations, or those that help meet the needs in State and local health departments. Apply by November 14, 2016.