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The Nationwide Nursing Crisis

Authored by Emma Lin, Policy Analysis and Management ‘26

Overworked. Understaffed. Tens of thousands of nurses in America are exhausted, and many are leaving the field for good.

It is no wonder that in early January of this year, nurses from Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City walked out in protest of the working conditions. [1]. However, these issues are not isolated to these hospitals. This mistreatment of nurses is spread across the country, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nurses are responsible for handling patient care, administering medication, checking up on vital signs, and facilitating communication with doctors [2]. In other words, they are the backbone of any medical institution. The demand for nurses in 2030 is predicted to hit 3.6 million, but many of them are leaving the profession in droves [3]. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic and the extreme mistreatment of healthcare workers have left nurses burnt out with 47% of them leaving or heavily considering leaving the profession [4].

This shortage of nurses has been an issue even before COVID-19. As the United States population ages over time, the need for nurses becomes greater [5]. However, the current average age for nurses is 51, which means a large portion of the nursing workforce will be retiring within the coming decade [5]. The intense working conditions coupled with shortages lead to frequent burnout and stress of the staff. Subsequently, patients experience a lower quality of care.

These terrible working conditions were mainly brought upon by hospital administrations that cut costs because of low Medicaid reimbursement [1]. Particularly in Mount Sinai and Montefiore, these actions led to nurses caring for up to 15 patients in the emergency room and three to four patients in the intensive care unit [1]. For a nurse to give adequate care, they should only have four emergency room patients and one to two intensive care patients [1]. The exploitation of these New York nurses resulted in a three day strike, which ended with pay raises and a better staffing ratio.

Although these strikes were isolated to New York City, they reemphasize the issue in the field of nursing across the country. There is not a shortage of nurses and people who want to enter the field – the working conditions and the lack of professionals to teach the field are the main issues [5].

The understaffing of sections of the hospitals decreases the morale of the nurses, which can be seen by the unusually high turnover of young nurses. In fact, there is a large proportion of nurses that leave the profession within the three months that they started working [55]. To mitigate this issue, hospitals rely on traveling nurses, but as a consequence, hospitals have to spend a lot of their budget covering the nurses’ traveling expenses and salaries [2].

Another critical issue is the lack of teachers to instruct the next generation of nurses. The compensation for nursing instructors is not very high in comparison to practicing nurses, and there are simply not enough teachers to accommodate the thousands of eager nursing students. Over 185,000 nurses have entered the workforce every year, which is not far from the 195,000 needed to fill the demand for nurses [6]. However, an additional 92,000 nursing applicants are turned away because there are simply not enough teachers [6].

It is no secret that in order to accommodate the health needs of Americans, the field of nursing must be revolutionized immediately. Hospitals must prioritize patient care over profits, and the government should allocate more funding into educating future nurses. Policies can be passed to support nursing programs at public universities, incentivizing more people to be instructors and opening more spots for to-be nurses. After all, nurses are the backbone of medicine, and without them would result in a worser off, unhealthier nation.

Works Cited

  1. Seitz, A. (2023, January 13). How the NYC Nurses Strike Points to a nationwide problem with staffing. PBS.

  2. University, G. M. (n.d.). What do nurses do? Gwynedd Mercy University.

  3. The state of the nation’s nursing shortage | healthiest communities ... (n.d.). s/health-news/articles/2022-11-01/the-state-of-the-nations-nursing-shortage

  4. Why is there a nursing shortage? NurseJournal. (2023, February 1).

  5. Padilla, M. (2023, February 1). The 19th explains: Why the nursing shortage isn't going away soon. The 19th.

  6. Otterman, S., Goldstein, J., & Gross, J. (2023, January 12). Nurses' strike ends in New York City after hospitals agree to add nurses. The New York Times.,the%20hospitals%3A%20too%20few%20nurses.

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