A Call at Nurses Week

In Florence Nightingale's day, quality, hygienic, patient-centered nursing was in short supply. Patient safety and quality of care have come a long way since then. But the shortage of nurses remains an alarming issue, one that will run through our celebration of National Nurses Week, which ends appropriately on Nightingale's birthday, May 12.

The forecast is troubling:

• The median age of a nurse is 46, and some 900,000 nurses over age 50 (of 3 million total nurses) will need to be replaced by 2020.

• The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates a nursing shortfall of 1 million by 2020. More conservative estimates put the number at "only" 260,000 by 2025. For comparison, the last great nursing shortage peaked in 2001 at 126,000.

These are stark numbers, especially with the Affordable Care Act adding tens of millions of newly insured patients to those already seeking care, and one third of current MDs expected to retire over the next 10 years, causing a physician deficit to grow as high as 100,000 across all specialties.

Want more? A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded study found that 1 in 5 newly minted RNs leaves a first job within a year and more than 33 percent leave within two. That type of turnover is costly for health systems and potentially dangerous for their patients.

The answer is more, better-prepared nurses, of course. That's why we must embrace the responsibility and the challenge as an industry that educates and molds nurses to continually do more.

Nurse researcher Cynda Rushton, PhD, RN, FAAN, for instance, recently launched a program called the Mindful Ethical Practice and Resiliency Academy to better equip nurses to communicate with their colleagues when they feel a course of treatment might be compromising the will of a patient or their own responsibilities. In a new NPR article, she describes the series of workshops and why it's so important for the health care system to have nurses who feel they can provide ethical care, always.

All of us in nursing education need to appeal to a more diverse potential work force and then get these new nurses ready to practice to the top of their licenses, to handle the ups and (yes) the downs of a profession so tremendously rewarding, challenging, and trusted that it takes a whole week to celebrate it.

Perhaps someone reading this is part of the answer.