Why Are Nurses in Demand? The Nursing Shortage, Explained

Have you wondered: Why are nurses in demand? The answer goes back to the looming nursing shortage. Some of the factors that have influenced the shortage are an aging patient population and workforce, the rise of chronic conditions and nursing instructor shortages.

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Nurses consistently rank among America’s most trusted professions, and for a good reason — whether you’re in for a routine check-up or an emergency hospitalization, nurses consistently provide compassionate care while advocating for patients and providing leadership within multidisciplinary healthcare teams. Yet, despite the crucial role nurses play, the challenges posed by today’s unique healthcare environment have resulted in a nursing shortage — and solving the problem is easier said than done.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on the incredible impact of nurses across the globe, nationwide demand for nurses was high. Myriad factors have contributed to this growing demand, including a wave of coming nurse retirements and a population that is living longer, often with one or more chronic conditions. While this presents challenges for our healthcare system, it also means opportunities for those looking to make a difference in a career that is much more than just a job.

In this article, we’ll answer the question “Why are nurses in demand?” while elaborating on the demand for nurses and why the nursing shortage exists. We’ll also talk about whether nursing is a good career, the value of a master’s in nursing and how Marquette University’s Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing program is addressing the nursing shortage with an innovative, second-degree MSN program in Pleasant Prairie, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Why Is There a Nursing Shortage?

For years, experts in the healthcare field have sounded the alarm on the high demand for nurses nationwide. Based on projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the country will need additional 203,200 registered nurses (RNs) each year from now through 2031.

In the United States RNs make good money, enjoy a level of employment stability unheard of in many industries and have a wealth of career choices, not to mention opportunities to further their careers. So why aren’t there enough nurses to meet the demand?

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An Aging Patient Population

Now the second-largest generation after millennials, baby boomers make up a sizable portion of the population. They also account for much of the growing demand for healthcare services — about half of U.S. seniors have three or more chronic conditions.

The number of Americans 65 or older is around 52 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Americans are living longer than ever. With an average life expectancy of 77.3 years, it’s expected that the number of Americans 65 or older will reach 95 million by 2060. This presents the healthcare industry with many new challenges … and not just in regard to those requiring care.

An Aging Workforce

Not only must providers account for the needs of an aging population requiring ever-greater levels of care, but they must do so in the face of a coming wave of nurse retirements. In fact, an industry-wide survey found that the average age for an RN is 52 years old, which may signal a large retirement wave over the next 15 years — making it critical that nursing schools produce enough new graduates to not only fill new positions, but also to replace those moving into retirement.

Fortunately, Marquette University is helping to alleviate this nursing shortage by providing non-nursing bachelor’s degree holders a path to their true calling while also allowing more students to enroll in our program through multiple yearly starts.

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Chronic Health Issues

It is well known in the healthcare field that chronic conditions are on the rise in the United States. In fact, about one out of two Americans has at least one chronic disease, and nearly one in four have two or more chronic conditions. These can include:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Obesity
  • Oral diseases
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Chronic conditions have risen hand in hand with an aging population, and they will continue to be a predominant concern within the healthcare field going forward. As a result, more and more Americans require greater levels of care. This includes more visits to healthcare providers, clinics, ambulatory care settings and hospitals, as well as rising insurance costs. It’s also making it increasingly important that nurses possess a depth of knowledge about a broad scope of health-related science.

A Nursing Educator Shortage

Despite the fact that more students are enrolling in nursing programs than ever, the number of qualified nursing school applicants far exceeds the number accepted into nursing programs — and that could be an understatement. According to recent research by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs could not accommodate more than 91,000 qualified applicants in 2021 in the United States alone. To think that the solution is simply to enroll more students, though, ignores the many challenges facing nursing schools. Understanding why this is requires a closer look at the current educational landscape.

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One relevant factor when examining this question is the fact that many universities lack the resources necessary to accommodate the number of additional students needed to meet the demand. However, this is far from the only reason. A related issue that is especially difficult to solve is securing enough clinical partnerships to accommodate additional students — something the AACN says is a factor in nearly two-thirds of qualified student rejections. Compounding the issue is a nationwide shortage of nursing faculty.

States Most Impacted by the Nursing Shortage

While the factors that have created the nationwide nursing shortage are felt everywhere, it’s necessary to evaluate the situation on a state by state basis. With differences in population and healthcare infrastructure, some states are feeling the impact more than others. According to data provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration, some of the states most in need of nurses to make up their shortfall are:

  • California, with a projected shortfall of 44,500 nurses by 2030
  • Texas, with a projected shortfall of 15,900 nurses by 2030
  • New Jersey, with a projected shortfall of 11,400 nurses by 2030
  • South Carolina, with a projected shortfall of 10,400 nurses by 2030
  • Alaska, with a projected shortfall of 5,400 nurses by 2030

While these states have the greatest individual projected need, every state will need more nurses to meet projected demand. With this knowledge, prospective students can start toward their degree knowing that they will be entering a high-demand field with plenty of flexibility and opportunities for advancement.

Marquette MSN student in a classroom setting

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Earn Your MSN in as Few as 21 Months through Marquette University

With an in-depth understanding of why nurses are in demand, you can have more confidence in the long-term prospects of the industry. Though you may begin your career in the same entry-level position as a BSN-educated RN, a Master of Science in Nursing degree can afford many opportunities over time — like taking on a management, nurse educator or clinical role. Not only that, an MSN degree puts you a degree closer to many advanced practice roles such as nurse practitioner (NP), nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife.

Student at desk studying with laptop

No matter your reason for wanting to become a nurse, it is possible to get into nursing school (and graduate) sooner if you already hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. That is, if you meet the program requirements, including completing any outstanding prerequisite coursework.

Marquette University’s Direct Entry MSN program is one such nursing program geared toward previous degree holders. Offering two starts a year at our Pleasant Prairie site, in January and August, as well as one start each May at our main campus in Milwaukee, this second-degree MSN program lets you use your previous non-nursing bachelor’s degree to earn a master’s in nursing in as few as 21 months.

Our Direct Entry MSN program features a mix of online coursework with hands-on labs and in-person clinical courses in a range of healthcare settings. To learn more, contact us to talk to an admissions adviser about how you can use your non-nursing bachelor’s degree to earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree in as few as 21 months.

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