Arizona’s health care system may experience some cloudy days as the state may soon face its greatest nursing shortage since the 1970s.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, 16 states are not going to have an adequate supply of nurses by the year 2025.
Of those states, Arizona is projected to have the greatest shortfall of registered caretakers – a deficit of more than 28,000 nurses.
Robin Schaeffer, the executive director of the Arizona Nurses Association, calls this coming deficit a “Silver Tsunami,” referencing the greying hair of retiring nurses, the patients for which they care and the devastating effect of their absence.
Behind the scary title is the very real fact that approximately one-third of the nursing population will approach retirement within the next decade.
“Nurses are at the front lines, taking care of the patients,” Schaeffer said. “When you think of a hospital and the care you get, most people think of nurses. They’re the largest group of direct care givers in the country.”
As experienced nurses retire, hospitals’ ability to effectively train new nurses also deteriorates.
“In nursing school, only nurses can really educate nurses,” Schaeffer said. “As our retirement increases, we might not have enough faculty to educate our new nurses.”
Hospitals cannot depend solely on less experienced nurses when faced with serious health crises, Schaeffer said. Hospitals need experienced nurses to teach their newer counterparts. Fewer experienced nurses translates to a widening of the “identified educational practice gap.”
“That’s not the model we want. You can’t have a staff in a hospital that is 50 percent experienced nurses and 50 percent inexperienced nurses,” she said. “It would just be unsafe.”
To ensure that patients receive proper care, hospitals are hiring experienced, out-of-state nurses with sign-on bonuses. Sign-on bonuses were popular during the ‘70s, when the last major nursing shortage led hospitals to lure nurses to Arizona by promising an extra $10,000 to each nurse’s annual salary.
Meanwhile, newly graduated nurses struggle to find jobs in hospitals where the hiring focus is on more experienced candidates.
“It costs extra money to fully orient a newly graduated nurse and to help them transition to practice,” she said. “A lot of the health care systems are reluctant to invest that type of money into a new graduate.”
Brenda Morris, assistant dean of ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said hospitals desire experienced nurses because they already have hands-on experience with the profession’s demands.
“More experienced nurses will have years of clinical experiences from which they can draw upon in a current patient care situation,” Morris said. “That experiences can help them handle a current situation in a different way than a new graduate might be able to do.”
However, as the number of experienced nurses declines, Morris said it may result in a limited ability to provide accessible health care to patients.
“While I certainly hope to not see the reduction in the quality of care, there is certainly risk, especially from a professional perspective,” Morris said. ”That’s why the nursing profession is so concerned as we project this shortage for our state.”