Washington News Bureau

Nationwide nursing shortage fueled by burnout, aging workforce, and educator shortage

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nurses are the foundation of our healthcare system, but like many professions right now, there is a dire shortage nationwide.

New data shows we’ll need more than 275,000 additional nurses over the next decade.

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“If you need a nurse, you need a nurse. If we get to a point in this shortage where schools don’t have nurses, jails don’t have nurses, emergency rooms don’t have nurses, it will affect everybody,” said Dean Sarah Szanton, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

Szanton warns this is what’s at stake if the ongoing nursing shortage isn’t taken seriously. She runs the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore where you’ll find the next generation of nurses like Erick Reyno.

“I was really into the mental health aspect of physical fitness,” said Reyno.

Even as a student, he said it’s been difficult watching nurses leave the profession.

“I have to remind myself this is going to be hard. This is part of the journey but remember there is a bigger picture that I want to work on at least personally in the end which is influencing how mental health is taken care of,” said Reyno.


Another factor is an aging workforce. Federal data shows about a third of nurses could be at retirement age within the next decade.

“We’re going to need more and more flexible models. People in their 70s may still want to work but they might want 4-hour shifts instead of 12-hour shifts,” said Dean Szanton.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, more than 91,000 qualified applications were turned down in 2021 alone. Officials say that’s because there’s a shortage of nursing school educators along with classroom space and clinical sites for teaching.

“Generally, nurse educators earn less than their clinical peers,” said Szanton. “So, you can imagine for a job that’s just as hard, it’s inspiring, but just as hard and takes just as much qualification, if not more [they] need to be paid adequately,” said Szanton.

Some lawmakers want to find a bipartisan solution. This includes addressing other barriers.

Republican and physician Bill Cassidy said many states require a master’s degree to become a nursing educator.

“I have worked with certificate nurses who have been by the bedside for 20 years who know nursing. The idea that we cannot use someone such as she in order to educate others, I think doesn’t acknowledge how much she knows,” said Senator Bill Cassidy, (R – Louisiana).

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Nurses have also been advocating for change.

They are pushing for a new bill called the “Future Advancement of Academic Nursing Act” or the FAAN Act. Szanton said this bill would address many of their concerns like more financial aid for students, better support for faculty, and new classroom space.

Back in Baltimore, some students say they also want more diversity.

“I don’t have as many faculty who look like me. It’s one or two here and there, but I was like you know what one day maybe I can be that person for someone else,” said Reyno.

Officials say the nursing shortage may vary depending on where you live. They expect rural hospitals and underserved communities in urban areas will be hit the hardest.