Is There Really a Nursing Shortage?

Is There a Nursing ShortageMany hospitals and hiring managers declare they can’t find enough nurses to fill their vacant positions. In fact, according to a June 2012 survey of healthcare recruiters, 42 percent of the respondents said their organization “always needs” to fill nursing positions.

On the other hand, registered nurses across the country are having trouble finding a nursing job. So, what’s really going on in the world of nursing? Is there a shortage of nurses, or too many underqualified nurses in our midst? Here are a few facts to help answer that question.

Experts say there is a shortage

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) nursing is the top occupation in terms of job growth through at least 2020. The AACN believes there is a nursing shortage, especially in the South and West. The Bureau of Labor Statistics concurs with AACN, with a 2012 jobs report saying, “Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 26 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur primarily because of technological advancements; an increased emphasis on preventative care; and the large, aging baby-boomer population who will demand more healthcare services as they live longer and more active lives.”

Some signs suggest there is an abundance of nurses

A shortage of RNs – many with years of experience – certainly wasn’t in evidence at a 2012 Cleveland Clinic recruitment fair. At the three-day event, the 11-hospital system was looking to fill about 600 nursing positions. Almost 1,600 RNs or soon-to-graduate students showed up at the fair. That’s almost three applicants for every job.

An RN shortage isn’t evident at Scripps Health in San Diego, either. In 2011–2012, they received almost 100,000 applications for 1,000 positions.  “The quality of the candidates we are selecting is stellar,” says Scripps Health’s Vice President of Nursing, Mary Ellen Doyle, RN, BSN, MBA.

Another way to look at supply and demand

Ellen McCarthy, senior human resources representative at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., says what appears to be a nursing glut is a glitch caused by the recession. When the economy turned sour in 2007, in most parts of the country, demand for healthcare services of all types started dropping because those who lost their jobs also lost their health insurance. With less demand, many hospitals were forced to cut staff and increase the patient–to–RN ratio. And, finally, experienced nurses who would have retired didn’t and/or those who were working part-time went to full-time (often because of a spouse’s job loss).  “There’s definitely a shortage,” says McCarthy, “but it’s masked by the recession.”

Too many new nurses?

The recession’s impact isn’t the only reason there’s an over-supply of nurses right now. Simply put, U.S. nursing programs may be churning out too many new nurses (without a BSN), despite the fact that nursing schools complain there aren’t enough instructors and educators. There may be an even bigger glut in the future. A 2010 report, Digging Deeper Into Data on Registered Nurses, indicated that – at least through 2015 – U.S. nursing programs may be graduating between 57,000 and  86,000 more nurses each year than there are openings for them.

Why so many new nursing grads?

A major contributor to the large numbers of new nurses is the increase in the growing number of nursing schools, especially associate degree (AA/AND) programs at community colleges and/or for-profit nursing schools. According to a Carnegie Foundation report, 60 percent of newly graduated and licensed nurses come out of ADN programs. But they aren’t hired, especially by urban hospital systems, at the same rates as those coming out of BSN programs.

At San Diego Hospital, only 10 to 15 percent of new hires are two-year grads. At Saint Lukes Hospital in Kansas City, it’s between 4 and 6 percent. (In both situations, however, those numbers may be skewed because of the large number of four-year nursing schools in both areas.) Few of Cleveland Clinic’s or Scripps Health’s new hires were new grads, either.

Experience and education level count

“Employers aren’t looking for new grads, they are looking for experienced nurses. But if new grads don’t get experience because they aren’t hired and trained, where will the OR and ICU nurses we need in the future come from?  They don’t grow on trees.” says Joanne Spetz, PhD, FAAN, a nationally-respected professor of health economics at the University of California San Francisco.

 What’s your take on the “nursing shortage?” Real or not?

©, Dice Holdings Inc., 2012

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About Eileen Beal

Eileen Beal, MA, began covering healthcare and medical education -- writing for HealthCare News and Hospital Report, MDNews, Nursing Weekly, Crains Cleveland Business Journal, Kaiser Permanente, University Hospitals/CASE Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic -- almost 20 years ago. She's written/co-written several health-related books and her articles have appeared in Arthritis Today, BottomLine Health, This Active Life and dozens of other consumer-focused publications and online at WebMD and


  1. BY RNKathy says:

    From my perspective, here in the Northeast, mid Atlantic area, there isn't shortage. I've been a RN for 7 years and mostly worked med/surg until loosing my job 2.5 years ago when they downsized my hospital. Despite those years experience, I've found nothing but contract jobs for a day or two each week.
    All the jobs I see require experience such as endoscopic, dialysis, or psychiatric-if you don't have that experience, forget it, as the budget doesn't allow any training of someone who hasn't done that before. Of course there is also agency nursing as many of the hospitals would rather use agency nurses than have their own staff so they can call them in as the census varies on a daily basis.
    All I see is the administration of the hospitals who want to squeeze their staffs, use unlicensed personnel to do the jobs that should be done by real nurses, for after all, any woman in scrubs must be a nurse, the patients will never question just who you are or how you are qualified to do what ever procedure is being done.

  2. BY diana grace says:

    there is no shortage. i have been unemployed for almost a year now…ive sent too many applications already with no positive feedback

  3. BY Valorie Ford says:

    No, definitely no nursing shortage. But there is a nursing job shortage. I know LVNs who have been licensed for 2yrs or more, who are still looking for work. My daughter is an LVN, it is so sad to watch the fire die in her eyes when she talks of being a nurse. She's waiting for the RN program but in the meantime may have to work at the mall to pay bills. Registry's have had her drive all over the LA area from Pasadena, Woodland Hills. Long Beach etc just to have her fill out endless forms and take countless tests(which she has always passed), and to sit for 4 hours watching compliance videos just to not call because there are no assignments. Yet the schools are still pushing for students to come to nursing school and graduate so the schools can get paid and the nurse to end up working at hot dog on a stick. Something should be done about this. Its so sad.

  4. BY D Fernandez says:

    Been in Tacoma, WA for 4 months, I have applications out all over town. I did interview for a nursing position and got a call back for FOUR follow up interviews and they ended up hiring an internal candidate. I was very demoralized. I am an experienced nurse with a national certification and will have my MSN in September. Since that last interview I have not been able to get in to get another interview ANYWHERE. I don't understand what they are looking for!

  5. BY Suzy says:

    RN for 8 years. Jobs are harder and harder to come by and wages going down. Very few local offerings. Haven't had an employer who offered health insurance or any benefits for past 4 years. Working Home health care now, very unstable income. Working towards my BSN presently to up my marketability. I love the work but can't always meet bills. Local college bursting at the seams in the economy so difficult to get into the course work I need as classes fill up very quickly. Where's the financial aid to work towards BSN? Still paying off student loans. I have researched the so called nursing shortage and even relocated outta state for work but discovered the shortage is for BSN and MSN qualified. I am looking into other fields while in school. I'm a good nurse. I think we are mass produced and nursing schools pop up on every corner like fast food restaurants! I'm Discouraged!

  6. BY Ed says:

    I am a nurse working in a busy emergency room in Southern California. There is no nursing shortage in this area! We have several hundred candidates apply for each position in the ER, many from 100 or more miles away.

    I also work as an instructor for a nurse refresher course. When I began teaching in 2007, most students were moms returning, or family financial needs needed to be met. Currently at least one quarter of the class are new grads who graduated and have been employed for over a year and are taking the course to keep their skills fresh, and continuing to fight for a employment position! The returning moms to their career represent a minimal amount of the class, with other returns being necessitated by family financial needs such as the spouse being unemployed, and even now there has been a small amount of retirees returning to the field because of retirements being unable to meet their current needs.

    It seems the only academia are the ones who were stating that there is a nursing shortage. I find this to be a conflict of interest, as academia is the one who receives all the state and federal funding to maintain these courses. I would sincerely appreciate some of these professors and individuals with doctorates to explain to the single mom who has just spent four years going to school, and now finds that she cannot get a job, has to remain on welfare, and still has a large amount of student loans to pay off, why she cannot get a job. We are seriously doing our young nurses a great injustice.

  7. BY Ellen Struzziero says:

    RN,MSN/CNM. I’ve been a nurse for 12 years, a midwife for 10 and unemployed for 1. I have been applying for RN positions, however, many hospitals have developed policies against hiring advanced practice nurses into RN roles because of role confusion partly. But also because it has been their experience that as soon as an APRN finds a job as a clinician, they leave.
    I have even applied for other specialties,such as NICU because I have an interest in cross training. But again, even w 12 years if experience- much of which included well baby nursury, I am “not qualified” and don’t already have 2 yrs experience.
    Trust me, 10 yrs ago, there were big “new grad” training programs. I was one of 28 in a new grad class training L and D nurses in Southern CA. It is amazing to me how things have dried up. In fact, many if the hospitals around here, in New England where I relocated, have mandatory rotating furlough days.
    Many if my colleagues are leaving healthcare altogether.
    As for me, I am now an unemployed, recently divorced, single mother of two on welfare. I have applied for over 60 jobs in the past month and have had only one interview. They gave the job to the previous person who interviewed. They said my resume was very impressive, and it was a difficult decision, they ended up deciding based on the order in which we interviewed. What?!
    There are just so many qualified people, I guess it has become “first come, first served”.

  8. BY steffen says:

    Never have I had a problem finding work. In fact recently lost my job of two years and had 2 new jobs within 2 weeks. With more pay. I believe that California is bursting at the seams with nurses. This from the economy killing off the retirees pensions. So they can not quit work and need to continuously work till the economy dramatically turns up. Out of California seems to be the place for more employment. Though it depends on the restrictions one places on the type of work they seek. Geriatric care is on the upswing due to the baby boomers aging. Not the best option but it is there.

    • BY steffen says:

      Also every career / job has taken a hit in the last few years….sorry that it can not be good times all the time. I came from construction at the beginning of the down fall and it was wonderful to have gotten my license when I did. In another state I visited with my folks, and all I heard was that there was a shortage of nurses and come quick, I could get hired right away. So there are options available if you look.

  9. BY Sandra Brenneman says:

    I am currently a nursing student in Texas and have been told for the last 4 years that there is a nursing shortage, but yet I have friends who either can't find jobs, or are struggling to fight for the PCT positions at hospitals. It seems if there is a shortage, it is for EXPERIENCED nurses and not nurses in general; NOT new graduates. Very discouraging!

  10. BY cynthia says:

    I have been a nurse for three years. I got into homecare because my sister referred me to her agency otherwise I think I would still be unemployed. I have five major hospitals within ten miles of my house and I don't stand a chance. I interviewed with one of them and never heard anything back. Everyone wants a BSN which I have and one year of experience in that department. They also make that clear in the job postings. If I had to do it all over again I would have done something different.

  11. BY Mary says:

    I agree with the majority opinion. When I graduated in 2001, most in my nursing class had job offers before we had even graduated. I worried later when all the talk of nursing shortages caused so many hopeful people to enter the field. Nursing has always had cycles of job availability and non-availability. I wonder if I left my current job if I could find another. It is very difficult to get a nursing position in Portland, Oregon.

  12. BY Denise says:

    I am a fourth generation nurse. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to return to school in order to become that fourth generation until I met my now husband who encouraged me to follow my dreams. When I entered nursing school in 2009 the administrators painted a beautiful picture of opportunity especially if you excelled. I got A's, I volunteered, I had an internship and an externship and excellent letters of reference. It took almost two years to get a part-time job working in home health. I have applied to more than 100 hospitals in CA, WA, OR, and NV, 100's of positions, and have been up against 100's of applicants each time. There is no nursing shortage. I've watched my dreams of working in my field virtually vanish, my dream turn into a nightmare. I have assumed nearly 60K in debt just in student loans to pursue my dream, and several thousand more in supplementing no income through credit cards.

    Administrators have continued to say "I've never seen it this bad," and "Just hang in there things will turn around…" but for who? Certainly not for me. I've been out of school for nearly three years. I can't qualify for new grad positions and I am not able to get the requisite experience in home health to qualify for positions in the hospital when looking for nurses with 1-2 years experience. Have schools of nursing reduced their enrollment? No, I don't believe they have. Am I bitter? You betcha. And it would appear that the only way I might make it into the hospital is going to be through going back for my master's and that won't even guarantee me a position, but how else will I ever get the opportunity to be the nurse I was meant to be? Shame on academia, shame on hospital administrators especially here in CA who bring travelers in from other states making it impossible for those of us born and raised here to work in our own communities.