There are over three million registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S., making nursing the nation’s largest healthcare profession. It’s no wonder, then, that the nursing shortage has impacted virtually every level of the healthcare system. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 270,000 registered nurses will be needed by 2030. Texas alone will be short nearly 60,000 nurses by 2032—a deficit that will surely worsen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

None of this will come as a surprise to RNs, who’ve been on the frontlines of the pandemic for months and now years. Burnout comes with the territory of being a nurse, but the long hours, heavy workloads, and widespread death brought on by the pandemic are driving many nurses away from the profession and contributing to the nursing shortage. There is, however, a way for nurses to overcome these challenges, but to understand how, we have to discuss what caused the nursing shortage in the first place.    

What’s Causing the Nursing Shortage?  

COVID-19 may be the straw that broke the camel’s back, but hospitals have been dealing with nursing shortages for years, and the problem may be an inherent part of healthcare. As historian Susan M. Reverby puts it, the problem with contemporary American nursing is the duty “to care in a society that refuses to value caring.” Limitations can keep nurses from providing the best possible care, and the limitations placed on today’s nurses range from the political to the extremely personal.   

The Silver Tsunami 
Adults aged 65 and older are expected to number 77 million by 2034, outnumbering children for the first time in U.S. history. Older adults are living longer than ever—a testament to modern medicine and the dedication of healthcare workers. However, increased longevity brings an increased risk of experiencing conditions associated with aging, such as cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and dementia. As the aging population, or “silver tsunami,” grows, so too will the demands placed on RNs.  

Early Retirement 
About one million RNs are older than 50 years of age, meaning we could lose about one-quarter of all nurses to retirement within the next 15 years. Nursing students will be able to fill some but not all of these vacant roles, especially when there’s a nursing faculty shortage limiting the number of students who can be accepted into nursing school. The pandemic has only made matters worse, and some nurses who planned on devoting a few more years to patient care are instead taking early retirement.  

Nurse Burnout 
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have been caring for patients on the front lines. Having to watch patients die every shift has taken an emotional toll on nurses, many of whom feel like they’re running on fumes. “It was exhausting,” said ICU nurse Kaitlyn Chahar. “I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t be able to pee. I wasn’t drinking water because you’re just constantly doing things in your patient’s room to make sure that they don’t die, and a lot of them still died.” Burnout from the pandemic, combined with long hours, lack of support, and ungrateful patients, has left many nurses unsure what to do with their careers. 

What Does the Nursing Shortage Mean for RNs and Patients?  

With their workforce dwindling, hospitals have turned to increasing patient-to-nurse ratios, which has been linked to burnout, turnover, and—alarmingly—patient death. Nurses who care for too many patients at once are more likely to commit errors and less likely to provide high-quality care. It’s a frustrating situation but one that gives nurses the leverage they need to advocate for change.  

Caring for Your Career, Patients, and Fellow Nurses 

Speaking on the importance of setting boundaries, nurse manager Avery Taylor said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup, right? I am still incredibly proud to be a nurse, but I don’t feel like I have to be a nurse at the sacrifice of myself. I still need to take care of myself.” Finding a balance may seem impossible during a nursing shortage, but for the nurses who continue to care—care for their careers, patients, and fellow nurses—there are few other options.  

Earn an RN to BSN From UT Permian Basin  

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers an online RN to BSN program that will prepare you for leadership roles in patient care. Accredited by the prestigious Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), our online program provides the knowledge needed to overcome today’s nursing challenges and foster a healthy work environment for the betterment of patients and staff.  

Within our online program, courses such as Strategy and Analysis of Organizational Process explore conflict resolution, negotiation skills, operations management and strategic planning—all areas essential for overcoming challenges created and worsened by the nursing shortage. Throughout this course, students learn how to improve population health outcomes by creating change in their units. This course, along with the rest of our online RN to BSN program, provides aspiring nursing leaders with the means to overcome staffing challenges and improve the quality of healthcare, which must be safeguarded during these difficult times. 

Ready to become a leader in nursing? Apply to our CCNE-accredited online RN to BSN program, and in as little as one year, you can graduate with a BSN from UT Permian Basin’s School of Nursing. Along with this prestigious credential, the knowledge and skills you’ll gain in our program will help you control the trajectory of your career, better provide for patient needs, and lead with confidence in your current or future nursing role.