One of the biggest news stories to come out of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic may be the nursing and nurse educator shortage of which we are still suffering the repercussions of today. In fact, the current US nurse educator shortage may be so serious that we may be seeing its consequences over a decade from now, with no way of knowing how long or short it may last. What are the causes of this shortage? Is there any way of slowing it down? And what can we do to prepare ourselves for the years ahead?

Just How Bad is the Nursing Shortage?

Simply put–the nursing shortage situation in the US has been snowballing consistently since the start of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic and continues to snowball with little sign of stopping any time soon. According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, 20% of US states are projected to be facing a nursing shortage by 2035. This level of shortage in the nursing world has been unparalleled for nearly thirty years and is seemingly more widespread than more recent shortages, not only resulting in fewer nurses to care for our aging population but also resulting in fewer nurse educators to train those nursing students who have made it through the rigorous application process.

Fewer Nurse Educators Means Fewer Nurses

One of the more frustrating aspects of the current nursing crisis is that in many ways the solution is prevented because of the problem itself. This is maybe best demonstrated by the fact that fewer nurses mean fewer nurse educators–and vise-versa. When the true signs of the nursing shortage began to show in 2021, the National Nursing Workforce Survey reported that nursing programs in the US were forced to turn away over 91,000 viable applicants due to a lack of nurse educators to train them. While there were plenty of nurses in line to receive their education, there were simply not enough resources to put them to work.

What's Causing the Most Recent Nursing Shortage?

There are many contributors to the nursing shortage that we've been experiencing in the US, but three reasons that are frequently cited as some of the most central to the issue are:
    • Stressful work conditions with inadequate pay
    • An aging population of both patients and nurses
    • An increase in demand since the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic
    The labor force in almost every field of work was decimated when the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic hit the United States, but this was particularly true of the nursing workforce. Hospitals were overcrowded, there was a shortage of supplies, and work hours were increased to service the hoards of sick people affected by Covid-19. Not only were there not enough nurses and nurse educators to offset the unprecedented demand, but the increase in stressful work conditions began to deteriorate the few nurses willing to stay in their positions and we began to see a downfall of the nursing population at levels that were previously unheard of for the past several decades. What made matters worse was the exposure to the disease that no other job was expected to withstand. This resulted in a continual hole in the nursing population as nurses would become sick with Covid-19, quarantine, and return to work weeks later. If an unprecedented increase in demand and stressful work conditions wasn't the final nail in the coffin of the nursing profession, the aging population of patients, nurse educators, and nurses would be. The US population has had a notable decrease in babies being born over the last several years, resulting in an overall aging of the population. As older people typically require more doctor visits and hospital stays, more nurses are needed to supply the increase of patients. But there's just one problem–nurses are getting older too, and over one million nurses are expected to retire in the next seven years. This is largely due to the overall aging of the population, but also due to the fact that fewer nursing students are being accepted into nursing programs due to there not being enough nurse educators to train them.

    A Silver Lining in the Nursing Crisis

    While the challenges posed by the current nursing crisis are incredibly daunting to the general public, for those looking to enter the world of nursing or nurse education, the opportunities are endless. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 203,200 nursing jobs to open up next year and a 6% increase in nursing jobs by 2031. While a notably stressful work environment is still likely for a few more years, we can also expect nursing salaries to go up as well. According to a study by the Health Affairs journal, wages have already gone up 10% since the pandemic and will only continue to increase as more nurses re-enter the workforce. Increased wages and more room for advancement are just a few of many naturally occurring solutions to the nursing shortage at hand.


    While the nursing shortage is a national crisis that we will likely be dealing with for many years due to the aging workforce, solutions are already at work to curve its effects. Covid-19 is going to be a part of our daily lives for the foreseeable future, but it's no longer a surprise. Hospitals and nursing facilities are now prepared for the worst-case scenario and have started to implement safer and less stressful work conditions as well as increase pay in order to encourage those looking to enter the nursing workforce, and it's now easier than ever to begin a career in nursing. This is especially good news for nurse educators who are desperately needed to train and prepare nurses for the rocky road ahead of them.

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    Jillian Lohman, DNP, MSN, RN
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