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Nursing Shortage History

It’s official. The United States is running out of nurses. We currently have 2.7 million nurses, and by 2022 our country will need 3.1 million nurses and only have 2.1 million nurses. How did we get into this nursing shortage? To properly answer this question we first need to look at the history of nursing in the United States.


Nursing shortage and World War II

Labor statistics state that 55% of the nursing workforce is above 50 years of age. How did this demographic skew occur? Large shifts in the supply of nurses trace back to the 1940’s. Throughout a war, the need for skilled nursing care skyrockets. World War II was no exception. As factories were creating munitions on an assembly line, schools increased their efforts to produce battle-ready nurses. Scholarships were offered to students interested in pursuing nursing. Large-scale marketing campaigns glorified the “flight nurse.” As the war ended, the nursing profession faced many changes. What happened next is still somewhat of a mystery… only one in six nurses who returned continued to practice nursing.


Nursing shortage after the war

For the following decades, there was an extended nursing shortage throughout the United States. This shortage was intensified by the new career opportunities available to women and the fact that men could not attend nursing school. This strong demand created a new generation of nurses. A generation which is currently approaching retirement age.
Now the nursing profession must face a new challenge. Nurses are retiring quicker than we can train them. The new nursing shortage is further exacerbated by new technology that has extended the life expectancy. Technology that nurses are required to operate. At this point, the upcoming nursing shortage is undeniable. As a community, we must come together and identify creative solutions to protect our noble profession.

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