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Could Upskilling Be the Answer to the U.S. Nurse Shortage?

August 20, 2020 at 1:21 PM

For decades now, the U.S. has been facing a mounting crisis in healthcare. There are not enough nurses, and specifically Registered Nurses (RNs), to meet increasing need. Nurses make up 50% of the healthcare workforce and by 2022, nursing will be the most in demand profession in the U.S. With a physician shortage projected to reach 46,900 to 121,900 by 2032, nurses are increasingly being tapped to fill gaps in care. All this would appear to bode well for career security in the nursing field, so why are there not enough nursing practitioners prepared to meet patient demand?

Doing more with less.

The U.S. population is growing, and along with it, we are seeing a substantial increase in older Americans with chronic ailments needing acute and post-acute care. In 2029, the last of the baby boomer generation will reach retirement age, resulting in a 73% increase in Americans 65 years of age and older. Healthcare workers also make up this demographic, with one million Registered Nurses currently over the age of 50 and set to retire within 10 to 15 years.

With fewer workers available to care for a growing number of patients, these professionals are being asked to do more with less. This pressure inevitably leads to high levels of stress, resulting in early retirement and high turnover. For doctors, burnout rates average around 50%. A recent study showed that burnout averaged 40% - 49% for nurses.

Other contributing factors to the shortage include a growing dependence on technology and telehealth—there are simply not enough healthcare professionals adequately trained to use new tools and protocols. There is also a problem with the inequitable distribution of medical talent geographically. And as of late, the economic and operational pressures of a global pandemic have further strained and already overburdened healthcare system.

Upskilling is no longer optional, but crucial.

To meet the challenges of providing quality healthcare to more patients with limited resources, hospitals and clinics are turning to upskilling and reskilling their workforce. While the concept is relatively new to the U.S. healthcare industry, other countries like India, are accustomed to doing less with more, and have been using upskilling with great success. Europe has also recognized the need for upskilling to meet shortages in patient care.

Like almost every other industry, healthcare is increasingly dependent on digital technology. Telehelth has become a principle tool used to address gaps in healthcare due to its comparative low cost and ease of deployment. Since digital acuity is not a regular feature of medical school curriculum, this has lead to a whole generation of healthcare workers lacking sufficient technology skills. As telehealth continues to become a regular fixture in medical practice, healthcare executives are deeply dependant on upskilling to ensure their workforce is adequately trained.

High turnover is critical problem in medicine. Between the extra cost of overtime, loss of organizational knowledge, and decreased productivity, it’s estimated that turnover costs healthcare organizations anywhere from $22,000 to $64,000, per nurse. Supporting workers by facilitating access to accredited continuing education programs prepares them to better manage increasing responsibility and expands their career options. For organizations wishing to keep and attract highly-value staff, upskilling is a great talent strategy for employee retention.

See the data behind the nursing shortage.

Want a more in-depth look at the nursing shortage and how it will impact our healthcare systems of the future? Our latest Infographic dives into data and much more.

See the Infographic



Deb Volzer

Written by Deb Volzer

Dr. Debra Volzer is Sr. Director of State and Workforce Development for Wiley Education Services. Her focus is to identify, engage and secure innovative learning partners interested in closing the skills gap. Her efforts work collaboratively with Industry and Learning Partners to identify and align models and solutions that increase learner success and streamline pathways to skills attainment. In this role she works to identify and align a shared vision and promotes collaboration of next-generation education solutions. Prior to joining Wiley, Volzer worked with corporations including Pearson North America, Barnes and Noble Education and Community College Futures Assembly and held administrative and teaching positions at the Ohio Board of Regents, Ohio Learning Network, the Ohio State University, Franklin University and Ohio Dominican. Volzer holds degree from the University of Kansas, Yale University and the Ohio State University.