By Mathew Keller, RN JD, MNA Nurse Policy Specialist
We’ve all heard the news about the “nursing crisis” or “nursing shortage,” but imagine my surprise when, after graduating from the University of Minnesota’s BSN program about 10 years ago, my classmates and I had a difficult time finding jobs. In fact, many of my peers were eventually forced to take on travel nursing assignments. Several are still in California, Missouri, and even Hawaii.
We here at MNA take claims of a nursing shortage very seriously. One of our priorities is to advocate for the profession. But, after digging into the numbers, we were surprised by what we found.
There is no nursing shortage in Minnesota. Not even close. According to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota will add 850 RN jobs over the next year. In addition, 931 RNs will leave the profession for various reasons, leaving a total of 1,781 RN jobs that will need to be filled.
What we’re experiencing is a combination of factors that artificially reduces the availability of nurses and leads to the perception of a nursing shortage when one doesn’t really exist.
- Employers are turning away two-thirds of nursing graduates because they are not baccalaureate-prepared.
- Hospitals require nurses to have experience in order to be considered for employment. That raises the age-old conundrum: how can you get experience when no one will hire you?
Having almost 1,800 RN openings may seem daunting until this fact is compared to the number of new licensees: Minnesota licensed 6,267 new registered nurses just last year. That’s more than three RNs for every new job opening. Even if we included just RN graduates from Minnesota nursing schools rather than nurse transfers to the state, that’s still almost two RNs for every new job opening.
Over the next ten years, DEED projects Minnesota will add 9,477 RN jobs; and 10,850 more RNs are expected to leave the profession.
Assuming no increase or decrease in the number of students sitting for the NCLEX-RN in Minnesota, we will add three times as many nurses as there will be job openings. However, the number of licensed applicants will surely increase, as it has doubled over the past five years.
So why does the nursing shortage myth continue to be perpetuated on a nearly daily basis? Maybe because of the following:
- Employers who hire on the basis of academic degree (i.e. BSN only) limit their potential pool of applicants to about half of those qualified on the basis of their licenses (i.e. RN), and don’t help nurses further their education once they are hired.
- Rural facilities often offer lower salaries and benefits, and thus may have a more difficult time attracting applicants.
- Of 1,699 current RN job vacancies, 53 percent are part time. While many may desire this option, most nurses seek the pay and/or benefits associated with full-time work.
- Of current job vacancies, 65 percent require more than one year of experience. Again, this severely restricts the potential pool of applicants and belies a lack of investment in training and the future of a facility’s nursing staff.
- The average median wage for Minnesota RNs is $33.92/hr. However, despite requiring more than a year of experience, the current median offer for RN wages is laughably lower: $26.90.
- 56 percent of nurses surveyed by MNA have considered leaving their units because of concern for patient safety/lack of breaks. 68 percent believe their unit is understaffed once or more a month. According to the research, facilities with unfavorable staffing levels have higher turnover, higher burnout, more difficulty in attracting new RNs, and worse patient outcomes.
- Nursing continues to be a profession that requires a high level of physical stamina. Nurses experience a disproportionate number of injuries – including cumulative injury from micro-tears that may prematurely end a nurse’s career. Regrettably, there is an overreliance on using nurses to move patients and a systemic lack of focus on using equipment (coupled with pressure to do more with less – and more quickly).
- As we all know, hospitals often choose to simply not fill open positions. This is evidenced by the fact that there are more than three RNs available for every open position in the state.
It’s these insidious factors that cause nurses to leave the nursing workforce. Fixing these causes and removing restrictions on hiring is the real answer to solving the so-called “nursing shortage.”