California is experiencing a shortage of registered nurses that differs fundamentally from prior nursing shortages, according to a new report released by the UCSF Center for Health Professions.
The report titled: Nursing in California: A Workforce Crisis is the first of several to be released by the UCSF Center for Health Professions' California Workforce Initiative.
"This is not just another cyclical shortage of nurses that can be rapidly cured by paying nurses higher wages and enrolling more students in nursing schools," said Edward O'Neil, director of the UCSF Center for the Health Professions and principal investigator of the study. "The aging of the nursing work force, the upheaval in the health care system and the expansion of career opportunities for women (who make up 94 percent of the nursing work force in California) are combining to produce a chronic shortage of nurses. That shortage can only be resolved by improving the work environment for nurses and redefining nursing practice."
Part of the nursing supply problem is itself related to aging, according to O'Neil. "One in every five RNs licensed in California is 55 or older, and many RNs retire in their late 50s and early 60s. If these patterns continue, retirees will represent much of the RN shortfall. This shortage will become more acute over the next several decades as the health care needs of aging baby boomers increase," he said.
The researchers also cite changes in the nursing work environment that have led to more stress among nurses and growing tension between nurses and managers. "Pressure to contain costs has led to efforts to reduce the length of patient stays in the hospital and limit admission to those who are most in need of services. Consequently, there is a higher level of patient illness in hospitals. This means that more critical decisions and work need to be carried out in less time," said Janet Coffman, MPP, associate director of Workforce Policy at the UCSF
Contact: Maureen McInaney
University of California - San Francisco