Many HR and talent acquisition teams are aware of the current nursing shortage. But few healthcare employers are prepared to overcome these staggering challenges over the next few years.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented demands on the nursing workforce in 2020, experts say those shockwaves will rattle the state of healthcare for the foreseeable future.
The American Nurses Association even urged the US Department of Health and Human Services to “declare the current and unsustainable nurse staffing shortage facing our country a national crisis.”
Most hospital CEOs now rank personnel shortages as their top concern for 2023. So how can your team overcome these seemingly monumental hurdles in nurse turnover, retention, and recruitment?
We’ll explore that in this post as we examine the most recent nurse shortage statistics.
We’ll use studies and surveys to learn the driving causes of nurse burnout, determine the true cost of nurse turnover for healthcare facilities, and provide ways to boost your nurse retention rates.
Eye-opening nursing shortage statistics 2020–2030
These nursing statistics put the challenges facing healthcare employers into perspective:
- The total supply of RNs decreased by more than 100,000 from 2020 to 2021 — the largest drop observed in the past 40 years.
- More RN jobs were available in 2022 than any other profession in the US.
- Demand for nurses will rise 9% through 2026, growing at a faster rate than all other occupations in the US.
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that more than 275,000 additional nurses will be needed from 2020 to 2030.
- A shortage of registered nurses is projected to spread across the country through 2030, with significant RN shortages in at least 30 states.
- Approximately 30,200 new Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) will be needed each year through 2031 to meet the rising demand for care.
- Nurse turnover rates stand at 19.5%, with voluntary terminations accounting for 93.9% of all hospital separations.
- The average RN vacancy rate is 9.9%; 62% of hospitals have an RN vacancy rate higher than 10%.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is working with schools, policymakers, and nursing organizations to bring awareness to these rising healthcare concerns and shape legislation to combat this crisis.
In October of 2022, the US Department of Labor even announced an $80 million funding opportunity through its Nursing Expansion Grant Program to support nursing training programs designed to expand the pipeline of nursing professionals.
But will those strategies be enough to address the most significant factors driving the shortage?
What’s causing the nursing shortage crisis?
America’s nursing shortage began with pandemic-fueled nurse burnout. An influx of sick and aging patient caseloads contributed to high nurse turnover and retirement rates. Schools are also losing teachers to lucrative travel nurse jobs, making it harder to train nursing students to replace those who’ve left the field.
These contributing factors have created a “perfect storm” for HR and talent acquisition teams to tackle simultaneously.
Let’s explore each element in further detail:
A Lack of Educators and Nursing Students
According to the AACN, “Faculty shortages at nursing schools across the country are limiting student capacity at a time when the need for professional registered nurses continues to grow.”
The AACN’s report on 2021-2022 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing shows nursing schools turned away 91,938 qualified applications (not applicants) in 2021.
Faculty shortages have been attributed to:
- Retirements. One-third of the current nursing faculty workforce is expected to retire by 2025.
- More attractive job offers. Many professors have been lured away from teaching by higher compensation and benefits packages in clinical and private-sector settings.
Without enough faculty, nursing schools cannot meet or expand their capacity for more students to enter the profession. So nursing enrollments are not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand.
The growing elderly population outpacing the nurse workforce
The nursing shortage will intensify as Baby Boomers age and place more demands on struggling healthcare systems.
The US Census Bureau states that there are ~56 million people aged 65 and older in 2022, but that figure will grow to 77 million by 2034.
There will be more need for geriatric care and specialty care for individuals with chronic diseases and comorbidities, both of which have risen in recent years.
Many nurses are nearing retirement age
As the number of Baby Boomers rises, so does the average age of nurses in the workforce. Stats tell us that 51% of nurses are age 50 or older, which may signal a significant retirement wave over the next 15 years.
Retirement was the third most common reason for nurse turnovers in 2020 and 2021, moving up two spots from 2019. This marked the first time retirement was in the top three motivators for leaving the profession.
Experts predict that more than one million RNs will retire from the workforce by 2030. So now 52.6% of hospitals have a strategy to retain older nurses, up from 21.6% in 2018.
Unfortunately, a significant number of nurses currently leaving the workforce are under 35, leaving little room for the experience of seasoned nurses to pass on to the next generation.
Overwhelming nurse burnout from COVID-19 & understaffing
The pandemic exacerbated insufficient staffing; nurses worked longer hours, had larger patient caseloads, suffered lower job satisfaction, and reported more feelings of burnout.
Experts say nurses and physicians are at a higher risk for burnout than the general population due to the demands of their jobs. They’re more likely to develop depression, anxiety, trauma-like symptoms, and relational problems.
In March of 2022, the results of the American Nurses Foundation and the American Nurses Association’s COVID-19 Impact Assessment Survey revealed that:
- 60% of acute care nurses say they’re feeling burnt out.
- 75% report feeling stressed, frustrated, and exhausted.
- 52% of nurses are considering leaving their current position due to insufficient staffing, work negatively affecting their health and well-being, and the inability to deliver quality care.
Over 75% of nurse leaders ranked their staff’s emotional health and well-being as their top challenge in one survey. Among nurse leaders, 25% admitted that they are not emotionally healthy, and 36% of nurse managers reported the same.
Burnout affects nurses at every age and stage of their careers, and remains a pressing issue.
The allure of being a travel nurse
Travel nurse packages reached up to $10,000 per week during the pandemic. So in 2020 and 2021, 62% of nurses became travel nurses.
Though 83% of survey respondents indicated higher pay was the number one reason for making this career shift, dissatisfaction with management (reported by 42%), the chance to explore new locations (41%), and more flexible work hours (36%) were primary incentives as well.
Higher nurse turnover rates
In addition to fewer nurses entering the profession, many are leaving the field to move into other healthcare roles. According to statistics:
- Intent to leave the profession increased by 123% between February and August 2021.
- 66% of acute care nurses have considered leaving nursing after their experiences during the pandemic.
- 29% of nurses are considering leaving nursing across all licensures, an 18% increase since 2020.
- Nearly half of new graduate nurses leave the profession within their first two years.
- Surveys show that less than 20% of nurses plan to stay with their current employer for more than three years; 30% plan to leave in the next two to three years.
- Passive job seekers (those not actively looking for a new job but are open to new opportunities) increased from 38% in 2020 to 47% in 2022.
The most common motivators for nurses to change work settings, employers, or leave the profession are dissatisfaction with management (41%), better pay (38%), lower mental health risks (33%), and more flexible hours (32%).
Since stats show it takes an average of three months to recruit a qualified nurse to fill a vacancy, the cost of nurse turnover for healthcare facilities has been astronomical.
The cost of nurse turnover
Staffing shortages and turnover costs stretch the limits of already slim facility margins and insufficient labor budgets. Data reveals that:
- The cost of turnover for a bedside RN ranges from $28,400 to $51,700 (for an average of $40,038).
- Turnover costs cause a hospital to lose $3.6 million to $6.5 million annually.
- Each percent change in RN turnover costs or saves the average hospital $270,800 per year.
To keep facilities adequately staffed, many providers are also paying a premium for travel nurses on top of overtime and critical staffing pay.
- One survey showed that 90% of hospital executives and senior leaders hired travel nurses in 2020, compared to less than 60% in 2019.
- As demand ballooned during COVID, travel nurse rates jumped over 200%.
- Many hospitals are spending approximately 62.5% more for travel RNs now than at the start of 2020.
- A hospital can save an average of $3,084,000 for every 20 travel RNs they eliminate.
Finally, nurse turnover rates drastically affect patient care and outcomes.
As patient wait times increase, nurses begin rushing patient appointments. This may have severe consequences on patient outcomes, from medication delivery errors, longer patient stays, and higher readmissions to increased infections and patient mortality rates.
Conversely, higher nurse staffing levels have been associated with shorter hospital stays, lower rates of infection, and fewer readmissions, failure-to-rescue incidents, and deaths.
The data proves it’s more cost-effective and sustainable to make long-term investments in nurse retention and recruitment efforts.
How to improve nurse retention in 2023
The average time to recruit an experienced nurse ranges from 66 to 126 days. Sourcing for specialties is associated with even longer time-to-fill rates.
So to improve staffing shortages, attract more candidates, and boost nurse retention, your team should:
Embrace contingent workers
Adding more qualified temporary or contract nurses to your roster will alleviate the short-term effects of understaffed teams.
Your permanent employees won’t be burdened by sky-high caseloads. And they’ll be able to take more time off to focus on their mental health and fully recharge between shifts.
If your contingent workers perform well, you may offer them permanent employment. This should help reduce your time-to-fill and time-to-hire rates.
Offer nurses incentives to pursue certifications
Many nurses want to pursue additional degrees and certifications. However, just 58% work for organizations that reimburse for continuing education. And of that small group, only 30% of employers offer full coverage.
So tuition assistance, student loan forgiveness, and other incentives to encourage professional development are attractive perks for recruiting nurses to your organization. They’ll also be a competitive advantage for retaining them.
Improving work flexibility and benefit options
As healthcare organizations compete for nursing talent, candidates are in an excellent position to negotiate for better compensation packages and benefits.
Research shows median nursing salaries are up for most groups, with 25% of survey respondents reporting that their salaries increased since the pandemic:
- The median RN salary rose from $73,000 in 2020 to $78,000 in 2022.
- Nurses with union representation earn a median salary of $89,590.
- Median salaries increased by $13,000 for APRNs and $3,000 for LPN/LVNs.
Employers must be prepared to offer competitive salaries, at a minimum. But it would be wise to consider additional pay incentives (like retention pay), employee benefits, and increased schedule flexibility to compete with the perks of travel nursing.
The top employee benefits nurses desire but do not often receive include:
- 401(k) and retirement planning
- Sign-on bonuses and regular merit increases
- A more flexible schedule with more paid time off
- Child care stipends
- Malpractice insurance
- Profit sharing
- Wellness resources (such as access to mental health services)
These incentives may lead to higher recruitment, retention, job satisfaction, and overall engagement for your nurse workforce.
Taking the next steps to alleviate nurse shortages
Though these healthcare statistics may be alarming, your organization can leverage them to craft strategies that benefit your facility’s nurse retention and recruitment rates — especially with the right support for your goals.
Partnering with Relode empowers your team to:
- Access real-time labor market data to ensure your nurse salaries are competitive with regional and national averages (and those offered by your competitors).
- Tap into diverse candidate pipelines for permanent employees. Our nationwide network of 4,000+ diverse recruiters engages with active and passive candidates to source the best fit for even the most complex requisites.
- Add more qualified contingent workers to your ranks. This would alleviate the biggest causes of nurse burnout (understaffing, high patient caseloads, insufficient time off, etc.).
Our innovative platform is built to deliver high-quality, vetted healthcare candidates at scale. By leveraging our human expertise, AI, and automation, you’ll have access to candidates not found on the typical job boards and scraped databases to bring your facility to optimal staffing levels quickly.
Request a demo to learn more about how Relode makes hiring better for everyone.