RALEIGH (July 14, 2021) – There’s no better time to appreciate nurses in North Carolina.
As we climb out of a global pandemic, we’ve seen nurses take incredible risks to themselves and their families. We’ve seen them hold the hands of patients as they die. We’ve seen them hold tablets for patients to see and hear goodbyes from their loved ones.
Yet even before the pandemic, we didn’t have enough nurses. And the shortage is only expected to get worse.
The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC Chapel Hill will soon release a model that projects North Carolina could face a shortage of 10,000 registered nurses – almost 10% of the current RN workforce – by 2033.
According to that model, the state could also face a shortage of 5,000 licensed practical nurses – more than 20% of the LPN workforce – by the same year.
“We are about to face some serious shortages,” Dr. Erin Fraher, Director of the Program on Health Workforce Research and Policy at the Sheps Center, says in the accompanying video.
Registered nurses will be most in demand at hospitals, Fraher says. And LPNs will be wanted at assisted-living centers and long-term care facilities. The center’s work was funded by the NC Board of Nursing.
THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC has taken a particularly hard toll on nurses, Fraher says. What was projected to be a “sprint” to combat the virus over a few months turned into more than a year – and for some, confronting death day after day after day.
“It was a very difficult time to look at the data and watch the stories,” she says. “It’s been 14 months … and we do see more nurse burnout.”
There are multiple factors involved in North Carolina’s nursing shortage: Baby Boomers retiring. A chronic shortage of nursing faculty because they can make more money nursing than teaching people how to nurse. Increased turnover in a high-stress job – especially over the past 16 months. And a phenomenon where nurses tend to work less as our economy improves.
“We could really see our nursing supply tank in a way that we wouldn’t have predicted going back 18 months or two years ago,” Fraher says.
A countervailing force, though, could be a “9/11 effect” – as nurses finally get the respect they deserve, there could be a surge into the profession, much as there was among firefighters and law enforcement after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Fraher and others who monitor the supply of nurses already see an encouraging uptick in enrollment in nursing programs in North Carolina.
As Higher Ed Works launches this series on nursing education, we will look at how some institutions are confronting the state’s longstanding nursing shortage. We will hear about the frustrations of battling the job market to hire enough instructors to train nurses. We will learn how burnout among nurses is real – and increased during the pandemic. We will look at the critical need for nurses in rural settings. We will examine how the demand for nurses is shifting.
And we will highlight a few of the many heroes among our nurses in North Carolina.
Glossary of Nursing Terms:
*Dedicated to Margaret Hawkins, who put three daughters through college on a nurse’s pay.