Could the imminent nursing shortage be a career opportunity?

nursingIn case you hadn't heard, there's a debate about health care going on in this country right now. I don't imagine any of you are unaware because you can't read or watch anything without hearing about the debate. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, we're all going to face a predicament: People are living longer than they did generations ago, the amount of baby boomers who will need medical care is huge, and the amount of nurses is inadequate. And if the show Scrubs is to be believed, there will be even less time for zany antics during this shortage!

PBS reran the episode "Nurses Needed" of its documentary program Now. Although it originally aired last fall, the facts remain the same. (At the end of the segment, producers do catch up with a featured patient to see how she's doing one year later.) By 2020, the country could have a shortage of nurses nearing 500,000 or even 1 million.

Look at this study on nursing from the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2000, the amount of full-time equivalent (FTE) licensed nurses was 1,891,000. The demand for FTE licensed nurses was 2,001,500. By 2020, there will be fewer FTE licensed nurses at just 1,808,000. Yet the demand will rise to 2,824,900.

A lack of nurses can translate into less attention spent with each patient, the program points out, and studies have proven that too many patients per nurse can negatively affect medical care. With fewer nurses in hospitals and other health-care facilities, the amount of patients per nurse will continue to grow. The program also explains that fewer nurses are choosing to teach due to low salaries, therefore adversely affecting the number of new nurses. And many nurses are choosing to work for pharmaceutical companies because the pay can be substantially higher than hospitals, emergency rooms, clinics and many other health care facilities.

If nursing appeals to you–and it's not an easy job, so it's definitely not for everyone–this could be the right time to look into it. The demand for nurses will only increase in the coming decades, so you'll be in demand. Depending on where you decide to work, wages can vary. Here are some median annual salary figures from to give you an idea:

(Salaries vary by location, of course. And there are many other nursing options available.)

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