The nursing workforce may face a deficit of 285,000 registered nurses by 2020, with the shortage growing to 500,000 by 2025 if there is no letup in demand, according to a national study released at a news conference in Washington.
A shortage of this magnitude could cripple healthcare quality, access and safety for millions of patients, said Peter Buerhaus, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and co-author of The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends and Implications.
Compounding this problem is the fact that many nurses are among the 78 million baby boomers who will reach age 65 over the next two decades, Buerhaus said. Currently, the average age of a nurse is 43.7 years, but by 2012, the projection is most registered nurses will be over age 50, he said.
The shortage will have a negative impact on the economy, and also has implications for healthcare reform, Buerhaus said. Some leaders advocate health coverage for all 47 million uninsured, a goal that will be difficult to achieve if theres a major nursing shortage, he said. -- by Jennifer Lubell