The ongoing shortage of nurses, despite new data that show improved supply, has a leading workforce analyst looking to an uncharacteristic source for more nurses: men.
Projections from researchers at Vanderbilt University, the Congressional Budget Office and Dartmouth College show the nursing shortage worsening, despite recent gains that have deflated the trios prior prediction that the nation would fall short 765,000 nurses by 2020. The figure now stands closer to 285,000 thanks to a flagging economy drawing nurses back to work and successful efforts to expand the nursing workforce, said co-author Peter Buerhaus, the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at 793-bed Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The reduction is an improvement, Buerhaus said, but clearly not enough. Thats three times worse than anything weve experienced, he said of the nearly 300,000 nurses needed to fill out demand during the next dozen years. Buerhaus said nursing must confront two demographic factors to head off a crisis: an aging and dominantly female workforce.
Nurses average age has crept steadily upward from 37.5 years in the early 1980s to 44 years. It will edge higher until 2015, when an exodus of retiring baby boomers will finally reverse the trend, the trios workforce analysis shows. Ninety-five percent of nursing employment growth between 2002 and last year came from workers aged 50 to 64, according to the analysis. And the historically female-dominated career no longer represents one of the few professional options for women. Its unlikely that were ever going to see women coming back to nursing in the same way, Buerhaus said.
Buerhaus, an economist and nurse, sees a chance to boost supply by targeting men, among other underrepresented demographic groups. Men account for 6% of registered nurses, federal figures show. Recruiting men means changing recruitment strategies, nurse educators said.
Gregg Newschwander, nursing department chairman for the University of Vermont, surveyed state nurses in 2003. Results showed men gravitate to high-intensity jobs in trauma and critical care. Marketing nursing as a high-intensity career could be more effective in attracting would-be male nurses, he said.