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Virginia’s expanding healthcare system may result in a shortage of nurses

(© Andy Dean –

The U.S. is experiencing an acute shortage of nurses that is expected to continue till at least 2030. But this shortage is nothing new. The country has been experiencing a nursing shortage for quite a few years now, but the current magnitude of nursing shortage is greater than anything experienced before. In Virginia, nursing shortages were limited to rural areas in the past, but today there is a shortage in established medical centers in the inner cities. This is cause for concern as nurses are the backbone of healthcare services, and without skilled nurses, no healthcare system can function effectively.

In 2010, the Virginia Nurses Association warned that by 2020, one in three Virginians would not receive the health care needed because of the shortage of registered nurses. Today, that shortage is looming and evident. Not only are patient surgeries being delayed, but there are not enough nurses to staff medical and surgical floors. By 2030, predictions are that there will be around 22,700 extra nursing jobs available in Virginia. Nationally, 1.1 million nurses will be needed across the country.

Why Virginia could face a nurse shortage

  • The shortage of nurses in Virginia has less to do with declining numbers of nurses and more to do with Virginia’s rapidly expanding healthcare system over the last couple of decades. In the past decade, healthcare workers have opened clinics, primary and urgent care centers all over the state to meet the patient demands, but this has created many more nursing jobs with less qualified nurses to fill them.
  • More nurses are retiring, and fewer are graduating and entering the field. Despite enormous incentives, high pay, and benefits, Americans are seeking alternate careers
  • In addition, the tremendous strain COVID-19 placed on healthcare workers led to many exiting the profession. The pandemic has led to significant stress on healthcare staff who are overworked and have lacked appropriate resources to take care of their patients.

Despite bonuses and incentives, most hospitals in Virginia have a hard time recruiting both new and experienced nurses. The acute shortages are most severe in the emergency department, operating theaters, and other surgical subspecialties. Over the past decades, the nursing shortage was addressed primarily by recruiting nurses from overseas- but this has not always worked. Not all foreign nurses have the right training or experience.

Today, nursing leaders have realized that to overcome the nursing shortage, the problem has to be addressed at the grassroots level, and it must be determined why Americans are not entering the nursing profession and how best to increase enrollment in nursing schools. Nursing educators recommend the following steps to overcome the nursing shortage:

  1. Colleges all over Virginia are now expanding their nursing programs and increasing enrollment, but it will take at least 3-4 years before the first batch of nurses graduate. At the same time, colleges should ensure that all graduating nurses get hands-on clinical training in nearby healthcare facilities.
  2. Barriers such as the cost of fees should not be why people can’t enter nursing school if they have good grades. Nursing schools should accommodate potential applicants with financial difficulties as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.
  3. Encourage graduating nurses to earn higher-level credentials like a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice. This will help improve the pool of skilled and educated nurses who, in turn, can act as leaders for junior nurses.
  4. Offer flexible options for nurse education, such as online programs. Not everyone can devote 3-4 years to a full-time nursing program, and some individuals (especially those who are married and with children) with busy schedules may benefit from online education.
  5. Offer loan forgiveness programs if the graduating nurse decides to sign on for a specified amount of time with a hospital. This is one of the best ways to encourage young people to enter the profession.
  6. Improve working hours and offer more flexible schedules. Working night shifts regularly can take a toll, and hence the workplace should offer flexible schedules to the staff.
  7. One great way to retain nurses is to offer incentives to those who stay on and work harder. For example, reward nurses who have perfect attendance and have the least number of sick days off.
  8. Hospitals should collaborate with nursing schools and make long-term investments in the training and development of nurses. Colleges can also offer continual education modules, online training, and self-tutorials to enhance learning.
  9. Encourage nurses to recruit for hospitals. For every successful recruitment, compensate the nurses monetarily.

What type of nursing jobs will be in demand

If you feel that nursing is the right career for you, a degree in nursing can put you on the path to nursing jobs that will increase in demand, such as:

  • Registered nurse
  • Emergency room nurse
  • Gerontology nurse practitioner
  • Family nurse practitioners
  • Nursing administrator
  • Nursing director

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the nursing profession is recession-proof. There are countless opportunities to advance, make good money, and have a decent quality of life for those who enter the profession. All that is needed is the right motivation, the right work environment and the right pay.

Story by Samna Ghani