Despite better numbers, the need for nurses remains

In an annual Gallup poll, Americans have voted nurses the most ethical of all the professions, a title bestowed on these healthcare workers for 17 years running. So it's only appropriate that there be a National Nurses Week, celebrated the first full week of May.

Whether it's in their unfailing compassion for patients or the effectiveness with which they perform preparatory tasks before "the doctor will see you now," nurses truly are indispensable assets. It may explain why, at 4 million strong, registered nurses represent the largest group of healthcare professionals, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Yet despite their numbers, these healthcare professionals remain highly in demand - and in virtually all positions, be they practice-based or administrative.

Registered nurses may serve as the best example. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2026, the RN workforce is slated to grow by over 438,000, an increase of 15% when compared to 2016. Furthermore, the BLS predicts that at least 203,700 new RNs will be needed per year to keep up with the pace of patient care needs and the rate at which older nurses are entering retirement.

Actions taken at the federal level
The federal government is looking to provide some assistance in this regard. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act, or H.R. 959. The legislation is designed to enhance access and improve support so more qualified men and women "across the continuum and in every community" enter the profession.

Ann Cary, chair of the AACN board of directors, stated that the bill comes at a good time.

"Building workforce capacity was placed at the forefront of the national healthcare agenda when the House of Representatives passed this legislation," Cary explained. "Without a robust workforce, our country cannot realize the goals of increasing access, reducing cost, and improving quality."

Strengthening supply must also involve improving education, which is why the AACN is leading an effort to encourage more nurses to lengthen their academic strides by seeking out baccalaureate and graduate degree programs.

Nurse holding patient's hand.Nurses are known for their top-notch care.

"With patient care growing more complex, ensuring a sufficient RN workforce is not merely a matter of how many nurses are needed, but rather an issue of preparing an adequate number of nurses with the right level of education to meet healthcare demands," Cary advised.

Higher proficiency levels not only help improve health outcomes but also make nurses more employable. AACN's call to action follows those of the Institute of Medicine, an organization that aims for 80% of registered nurses to be "baccalaureate-prepared" no later than 2020. That goal appears to be in reach, as enrollment in these academic programs rose from 77,000 in 2010 to 139,000 in 2018.

Hiring activity underway
Recruitment efforts are ongoing, but are particularly commonplace around National Nurses Week. For example, on May 8, the American Nurses Association launched a free webinar called "Nurses4Us: Elevating the Profession." Hosted by ANA President Ernest Grant and Parish Nursing at Carle Foundation Director Faith Roberts, the 60-minute video offers tips to current nurses and recommendations for how to better shine a light on the issues facing the profession. In a press release, Grant noted how the variety of specialties nurses work and participate in helps explain why they're considered trusted advocates across the healthcare spectrum. 

With healthcare representing 18% of the economy, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, hospitals, clinics and medical offices are constantly on the lookout for qualified nurses. Their efforts are designed to make good on the promise of striving to deliver a higher caliber of ongoing care.

Nurses are needed throughout the healthcare continuum.