In 1989, a New Jersey hospital held a contest. The winner would be a newly employed nurse, and the prize a $1,000 gift certificate to Macy's. To qualify for the drawing, nurses needed to do nothing more than accept a job. That type of novel strategy to attract nurses became necessary in the midst of a shortage of allied health professionals that plagued the nation's hospitals throughout the late 1980s.
In December 1988, HHS' Commission on Nursing issued a report calling for immediate action to address the growing shortage. And it wasn't until the early 1990s that things started to improve; as 1991 came to a close, an Ohio Hospital Association survey found that the state's nursing vacancies were at their lowest levels in six years.
The 1990s passed without another significant crisis on the front lines of nursing. In fact, the highest increase in the registered nursing population occurred from 1992 to 1996, when the number of nurses rose 14.2%.
But in recent months the problem has returned, once again making headlines and giving hospital executives headaches. Similar to the one it issued in 1988, HHS said in a February report that although there was an uptick in the number of nurses from 1996 to 2000, demand for nurses is beginning to outpace supply. Hospitals in some areas say the shortage already has reached crisis levels.
Over the next 10 years, the U.S. will "experience an extreme nursing shortfall," Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) told Congress early this year.