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The nursing shortage and the doctor shortage are two very different things

Brain tumor patient Lori Simons, left, receives an experimental cancer drug from nurse Norissa Honea at Phoenix's Barrow Neurological Institute last October. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

Nursing is bracing for what’s being called a “silver tsunami” — a graying Baby Boomer workforce entering retirement. On top of that, many other nurses are leaving the field out of frustration. Why? They don’t feel they’re making enough of a difference for their patients.

A 2011 study found that more than 20 percent of nurses who provide direct patient care expressed job dissatisfaction, compared to 13 percent of nurses in non-institutional settings.

While some experts caution that we don’t know how many nurses will be leaving the workforce, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 526,800 more nurses will be needed by 2022 -- an increase of 19.4 percent from 2012 -- to help keep up with patient growth and replace those who leave.

Physicians also face a serious shortage. A recent study shows that by 2025, the nation will require as many as 90,000 more of them.

But the struggle to fill nursing positions is different from the effort to add to the physician workforce.

[Med school association warns of 90,000 doctor shortage by 2025]

One main reason: There are not enough faculty to teach incoming nursing students. Either faculty are leaving due to retirement -- like their counterparts in health-care settings, they too are aging – or they’re gaining higher salaries elsewhere in practice settings other than teaching.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, two-thirds of nursing schools admit faculty shortages were a main reason for turning away qualified applicants.

Consumers continue to rate nursing the top profession on honesty and ethics, according to a Gallup survey, and they rely on them to provide constant care. But what they may not understand is how the role of nursing is changing along with the health-care landscape.

Nurses are adapting to meet patients wherever they seek care, far beyond the hospital. They are in homes, long-term care facilities, retail drug stores and community settings. They have always filled the gaps in health care, and that’s why they’re in high demand as the glue that holds our fragmented system together.

The profession has reached a point where adapting isn’t enough. Nurses now must emerge as health-care leaders. The systems that foster their advancement and let nurses’ voices be heard will be the ones that attract and retain talent.

To make this happen, our health-care systems need a complete culture change.

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Professional needs

If they want an adequate supply of nurses, health-care organizations must heed nurses’ emotional, physical and professional needs or risk losing them. Solutions must be developed in several key areas, including education, personal wellness and recognition.

Ongoing training not only enhances nurses’ skills, it elevates their role and provides opportunities for them to find more advanced positions and leadership positions.

Health-care organizations can provide opportunities for their nurses to take online courses. Health-care professionals take some 40,000 online classes monthly through Medline University, which offers free educational opportunities. More than 600,000 registered users on our platform can choose from more than 250 continuing education courses.

Supporting the nursing staff’s advancement and creating an environment that helps them improve their practices, deliver optimum care and assure them that at the end of the day they’ve made a difference is essential to the future of the profession.

Physical demands

Health-care systems also must create an environment that protects a nurse’s well-being. About 52 percent of nurses complain of chronic back pain, according to American Nurses Association data. Is this going to continue to be the accepted standard or can more be done?

A new study also reveals that nurses suffer from 4.5 times more contact dermatitis than any other profession, as a result of hand hygiene compliance measures like constant hand-washing, scrubbing and sanitizing. Knowing that caregivers’ hands are their most trusted tools, how are health-care organizations protecting those tools?

When we take better care of our nation’s caregivers, we show that we value them. And we perpetuate the idea that nursing is a good career choice.

Increased staff retention and better morale will result when organizations take the time to understand nurses’ opinions, offer comprehensive training and follow through to evaluate success. An organizational culture that hears nurses’ voices when true change is needed will attract and keep talent.

Nurses inherently love taking care of people and solving problems. Who will step up to care for them?

Martie Moore is the chief nursing officer at Medline Industries, Inc., the nation’s largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies and clinical solutions.