Future Numbers of Newly Insured Patients Increases Need for Nurses

Two American Sentinel professors study the issues of a dwindling nursing workforce and increasing numbers of patients

With baby boomers retiring and new legislation giving more Americans access to healthcare, how might the nursing profession change over the next 10 years?

Susan Lacey

If you ask American Sentinel Professor Susan Lacey, Ph.D., there will be plenty of room for newcomers. “We’ve seen nursing shortages before,” says Dr. Lacey, “but we have never seen anything quite like this.”

As demand for healthcare continues to grow, the supply of nurses is simultaneously set to dwindle. An article Dr. Lacey and American Sentinel Professor Karen Cox, Ph.D., recently published in Modern Healthcare explains why: 33 percent of the nation’s registered nurses are aged 50 or older. Just as baby boomers start needing more healthcare, these nurses will be leaving the workforce.

Karen Cox

What’s more, with new health care legislation sending what Drs. Lacey and Cox call a “tsunami of anticipated newly insured patients” into the system, the need for more nurses will be greater than ever.

Here are a few measures both professors believe hospital leaders must take to maintain excellence in nursing:

•   Improve the work environment for nurses. Nursing leadership should strive for high levels of job satisfaction among nursing staff.

•   Implement knowledge transfer programs. Let older nurses impart knowledge and experience to younger ones. As Dr. Lacey puts it, “What will happen when 40 years of experience walks out the door? We need to capture and share their expertise in both formal and informal channels.”

•   Encourage phased retirements and employee transfers. Allow experienced nurses to stay on staff instead of leaving all at once. Move older professionals to positions that are less physically demanding.

•   Value nurses and expand opportunities. Treat nurses as professionals, not commodities. Allow them to participate in collaborative improvement efforts that encourage nursing leadership skills, even among nurses who have little leadership experience.

As a professor in American Sentinel’s online nursing degree program, Dr. Lacey also believes education will play a role in nurses’ success during the upcoming years: “Quality and safety is big in the industry right now, and nurses haven’t really been a part of it. They now have a great opportunity to be part of that agenda.”

Online nursing programs that prepare students for such eminent changes in the health care industry are undoubtedly a critical component of their preparation.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for nurses,” Dr. Lacey says. “I think our best days are yet to come.”