Shortage Strategies

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that the U.S. will have at least 400,000 fewer nurses practicing in 2020 than today. In a guest editorial in the April 2007 issue of Journal of Nursing Administration, RWJF Senior Program Officer Michelle Larkin says that keeping experienced hospital nurses is one solution to this growing nursing shortage. She explains why experienced nurses are leaving bedside care and what health care leaders can do to encourage them to remain in the hospital workforce longer. Larkin's commentary also highlights Wisdom at Work: Retaining Experienced Nurses, an RWJF national program which will evaluate the impact and outcomes of existing interventions such as these that aim to retain experiences nurses in hospitals.

Larkin also highlights findings from a recent RWJF white paper, "Wisdom at Work: The Importance of the Older and Experienced Nurse in the Workplace," in which nurses reported many reasons for leaving the hospital setting or the profession altogether. Common concerns included inappropriate staffing levels and long 12-hour shifts, which are especially challenging for older nurses with caregiving demands at home. Nurses also described feeling unappreciated and undervalued by physicians and hospital leaders, and eager for a work environment where their leadership role is recognized and valued.

Larkin describes a number of interventions that have been successfully adopted by hospitals to ease some of the challenges nurses face. Promising practices identified in the white paper include using technology more efficiently, increasing the flexibility of human resources policies, and changing the physical design of hospitals.