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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

A worldwide shortage of nurses in recent years is the result of population ageing, low enrollment in nursing courses, the relative attractiveness of other occupations, and an increase in patient acuity and violence. There are a number of ways the nursing shortage might be addressed.

Thousands of applicants to nursing courses are turned away every year, compounding the shortage of nurses. More places are needed but traditional on-campus education at a university nursing school is expensive. The answer might lie in encouraging additional online courses where students can study nursing theory, while the practical component of the course is taken locally. The overall cost of producing qualified nurses will be lower. Many nursing schools already offer online courses.

More nurse educators are needed for both traditional and online nursing courses. This is one of the factors causing a nursing shortage. Additional public and private funding is needed to increase nurse educator numbers. Scholarship offers would be a good incentive to attract suitable applicants.

Most hospitals are already using various education strategies to help address nursing shortages. These include seeking private sector participants to partner with nursing schools, subsidizing nursing salaries, reimbursing part of the education costs of nurses, and allowing them time to attend courses.

Increased government funding is needed if various loan and scholarship programs are going to have an effect on reducing the nursing shortage. Additional nurses need to be recruited from overseas. This is a popular way of boosting the number of nurses in many countries. However, the US has restrictions on the number allowed to enter the country.

A safer and healthier work environment is needed to attract more nurses. Heavy workloads, an increase in patient violence, and greater patient acuity leads to additional stress for nurses. These pressures could be eased with higher nursing staff numbers. Adequate support is needed, such as safer needle systems, lifting devices, and computerized medication dispensing. More security and support in emergency rooms is required.

Nursing needs to be made more attractive if turnover rates are to be reduced and a greater number of nurses are going to be recruited into the profession. Offering shorter and more flexible shifts might encourage more people to remain in nursing. Refresher courses could be offered to nurses who have been out of the profession for some time to try and bring them back. Encouraging school students to consider nursing and improving the image of the profession may help ease the crisis.

Wages for nurses have slipped relative to those in many professions and need to be increased to entice people to join nursing. Studies show that hospitals offering higher salaries for nurses attract greater numbers, leading to better staffing levels, less stress among staff and improved patient care. Similarly, an increase in salaries of nurse educators will attract more people into these roles.

Better staffing ratios are required that set maximum patient numbers per nurse. Staffing plans could be developed between nurses and management. Compulsory overtime should be eliminated, ensuring nurses get adequate rest to allow them to provide high quality patient care. Access to ongoing education needs to be more readily available and flexible. A career path for nurses should be defined and opportunities created for promotion and advancement. Paperwork needs to be simplified and red tape reduced.

A lot of things could be done to reduce the nursing shortage, even if eliminating the problem altogether might seem unlikely in the short to medium term. In the end, nursing must be made more attractive, courses need to be expanded, and more funding is required.

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