Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., R.N., and Professor at Vanderbilt University
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- A serious shortage of nurses cold put the nation's healthcare system on life support, and to the surprise of many, thousands of qualified college applicants are being turned away from nursing schools.
The dwindling pool of nurses can be traced largely to an aging population of baby boomers. Today's nurses are getting older and retiring. It's the same reason not enough college professors are on-hand to train the nursing ranks of tomorrow.
In 2002, when the nursing shortage was at its worst, colleges and universities did their job stirring up interest, but higher education couldn't staff enough professors to handle the sudden surge.
"Tremendous interest in nursing, but we're turning away thousands, as much as 100,000 nurses, of qualified people who want to become nurses a year," said Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D., R.N., and Professor at Vanderbilt University.
Peter Buerhaus is registered nurse turned scholar, a Nashville man who swapped a stethoscope for a study group. Now, countless hours of research later, Buerhaus has a mountain of data, a brand new book, and a vital conclusion: age is nursing's greatest detriment.
"We're almost at the point where the largest age group in the nursing profession are over the age of 50, "said Buerhaus.
He said the current nursing shortage, now in its 10th year, is also rooted in a bigger burden being placed on nurses, especially during the 90s. But Buerhaus says that trend is turning. He said hospitals are offering heftier salaries, and nurses are finally gathering more respect among their peers. Still, nursing numbers continue to fall.
Forecasters predict the biggest nursing shortage ever by the year 2020, and according to Buerhaus, that will have a serious ripple effect.
"We won't have enough nurse staffing in either a doctor's office, in a hospital, in our schools," said Buerhaus.
Buerhaus also says not enough nurses could mean ER staff will be forced to prioritize, or "triage."
According to Buerhaus, fixing the nursing shortage starts in Washington where lawmakers have the power to ear-mark money for nursing programs, nation-wide.