• Written by Rayna M Letourneau, Assistant Professor of Nursing, University of South Florida
Amid a raging pandemic, the US faces a nursing shortage. Can we close the gap? American Nurses Association, CC BY[1][2] With a sharp increase in U.S. COVID-19 cases[3] this fall and hospitals nearing capacity[4] in parts of the Midwest and West[5], health care workers nationwide are scrambling to save lives – at great personal risk. But the extraordinary number of people flooding U.S. hospitals has shined a spotlight on another crisis: the country’s nursing shortage[6]. “While we have beds, those beds are only as good as the staff that you can place around them,” said Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association, quoted in the Washington Post[7]. High risk The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for nurses, including fear of workplace exposure[8]. Since nurses have the most direct, hands-on patient contact, they face the greatest risk of infection[9] of all health care workers. Many have been reassigned[10] to the emergency room, “COVID units” or other high-risk departments. It’s become an extremely dangerous job. More than half of the 20,000 nurses surveyed[11] by the American Nurses Association last summer reported[12] having to reuse single-use masks or treat patients with little or no personal protective equipment[13]. Many are working 12- to 16-hour shifts. Some who have tested positive for the virus[14] have been asked to continue working to care for the glut of patients. They face threats of physical harm[15] from those who call the virus a hoax. Some 36% of health care workers hospitalized[16] with COVID-19 were nurses or nursing assistants, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. As of September, 213 registered nurses[17] had succumbed to the virus. Amid a raging pandemic, the US faces a nursing shortage. Can we close the gap? Nurses have protested in front of the White House and across the country to highlight inadequate staffing and scarce personal protective equipment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Working conditions have sparked protests in front of the White House and across the country. In May, the New York State Nurses Association filed three lawsuits[18] against the New York State Health Department and two hospitals over safety. The nursing crisis Some 4 million registered nurses[19] make up the U.S. workforce; about 60% work in hospitals[20]. By 2022, the nation needs 1.1 million new RNs[21] to avoid a nursing shortage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospitals can’t function without enough nurses, who spend more time caring for patients than any other health care professional. To keep hospitals staffed amid current shortages[22], some administrators are replacing nurses with technicians[23] or asking nonhospital nurses to work in hospitals[24]. These are life-and-death decisions: choosing either to treat patients under circumstances that could risk medical errors[25] – or turn them away. What caused this crisis? My work as a nurse researcher and professor is to create a highly educated, competent nursing workforce and advance the impact of nursing on the health and wellness of our nation. I’ve found that current and projected shortages[26] have many causes and vary widely, with the largest shortfalls in southern and western states[27]. Some of the looming problem is demographic. The average age of a U.S. nurse[28] is 51, and 1 million nurses will be eligible for retirement in 10 to 15 years[29]. Nursing schools are expanding, but it’s not enough to fill the void[30]. As the nursing workforce shrinks, the stress on the health care system is rising. The nation’s 73 million baby boomers are aging, with many suffering from chronic illnesses[31] – such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes[32] – that require intensive levels of care. A dangerous, stressful career Under normal circumstances, nursing is considered one of the most stressful careers[33]. Demands of the job tend to take precedent over self-care; one study[34] found that 68% of nurses put their patients’ health and safety before their own. Amid a raging pandemic, the US faces a nursing shortage. Can we close the gap? A nurse shows signs of fatigue from working long hours: Lines from her mask are etched into her face. RichLegg/Getty Images[35] An American Nurses Association report[36] revealed that the nursing workforce suffers from widespread health and wellness problems. Many nurses[37] are overweight and don’t get adequate sleep; three-fifths work 10 or more hours a day. The job places nurses at high risk of injury and illness[38]. The dangers include moving and lifting heavy patients and equipment as well as exposure[39] to infectious diseases, chemicals and radioactive materials. Working under intense stress causes burnout in about half of all nurses. It may spark physical or emotional ailments, drug or alcohol misuse or depression. Nurses have a substantially higher risk of suicide[40] than the general population[41]. Pandemic nursing The health of the nation’s nurses needs immediate attention. Tired, sick burned-out nurses can’t provide the best care and are more likely to quit their jobs[42] than those with better working conditions. But now, the pandemic has made a tough job exponentially harder. It’s placed health care workers in war zone-like circumstances that they never trained for – or wanted. Picture the shock, for example, of a pediatric nurse relocated from the newborn nursery to a COVID-19 ward. In a nationwide survey[43] last spring, more than 60% of the 1,200 nurses interviewed said they were considering quitting their jobs – or leaving the profession altogether. Amid a raging pandemic, the US faces a nursing shortage. Can we close the gap? Nurses help a COVID-19 patient teleconference with relatives in a hospital ICU. Tempura/Getty Images[44] Rebuilding a strong nursing force Without serious efforts to recruit more nurses and improve working conditions, the U.S. is in danger[45] of serious breakdowns in the health care system. [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[46].] There are many ways to address the nursing shortage[47]. Solutions include offering better salary and benefits, saner work hours and less physically demanding roles for older, experienced nurses to keep them working longer. Nonprofit initiatives like the “Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation[48]” program can help improve health and wellness. Reaching out to youth and continued funding for nursing education under the Public Health Service Act[49] will help spark interest in the profession and build a more diverse workforce. A strong nursing workforce[50] is essential to the health and wellness of the nation. Our health care system and our lives may depend on it.


  1. ^ American Nurses Association (
  2. ^ CC BY (
  3. ^ sharp increase in U.S. COVID-19 cases (
  4. ^ hospitals nearing capacity (
  5. ^ Midwest and West (
  6. ^ nursing shortage (
  7. ^ Washington Post (
  8. ^ fear of workplace exposure (
  9. ^ they face the greatest risk of infection (
  10. ^ reassigned (
  11. ^ surveyed (
  12. ^ reported (
  13. ^ treat patients with little or no personal protective equipment (
  14. ^ who have tested positive for the virus (
  15. ^ threats of physical harm (
  16. ^ hospitalized (
  17. ^ 213 registered nurses (
  18. ^ three lawsuits (
  19. ^ 4 million registered nurses (
  20. ^ work in hospitals (
  21. ^ needs 1.1 million new RNs (
  22. ^ shortages (
  23. ^ replacing nurses with technicians (
  24. ^ nonhospital nurses to work in hospitals (
  25. ^ that could risk medical errors (
  26. ^ current and projected shortages (
  27. ^ largest shortfalls in southern and western states (
  28. ^ average age of a U.S. nurse (
  29. ^ 1 million nurses will be eligible for retirement in 10 to 15 years (
  30. ^ it’s not enough to fill the void (
  31. ^ suffering from chronic illnesses (
  32. ^ heart disease, cancer and diabetes (
  33. ^ one of the most stressful careers (
  34. ^ study (
  35. ^ RichLegg/Getty Images (
  36. ^ report (
  37. ^ Many nurses (
  38. ^ high risk of injury and illness (
  39. ^ exposure (
  40. ^ substantially higher risk of suicide (
  41. ^ than the general population (
  42. ^ more likely to quit their jobs (
  43. ^ survey (
  44. ^ Tempura/Getty Images (
  45. ^ the U.S. is in danger (
  46. ^ Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter (
  47. ^ address the nursing shortage (
  48. ^ Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation (
  49. ^ Public Health Service Act (
  50. ^ A strong nursing workforce (

Authors: Rayna M Letourneau, Assistant Professor of Nursing, University of South Florida

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News


DIVAS Simply Singing!, the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the United States, hits a major milestone in 2020, hosting its 30th annual fundraiser for The D.I.V.A. Foundation as a virtual event and on Saturday, December 5th on K...

News Co - avatar News Co


“Together” As the go-to special show and traveling drummer for Chuck Berry for many years, Michael Mesey had a blast creating explosive moments on stage with the legendary musical pioneer all over the country. Yet one of his most cherished me...

News Co - avatar News Co

Actress Paris Hepburn Fights Through Covid Crisis

The entertainment industry has been hard hit in 2019 as we all know.  Since Covid-19 started entering the US in January 2019, one by one, movie studios, talent agencies, actors, crews and everything else associated with the entertainment industry...

News Co - avatar News Co

Why You Should Explore Your Creativity

You might think that you weren’t fortunate enough to be gifted at birth with creativity. You might say, “Oh, my brother got the creative genes, and I didn’t,” or “Why would I want to be creative”? Someone once asked me that last question, to whi...

Angela Predhomme - avatar Angela Predhomme

What does being the Happiness Warrior mean to me?

I’ve always felt I’ve had an innate need to set things right. If I see someone or something struggling, my nature is to help. I want them to feel good about themselves and their abilities but most importantly to find the best solution that make...

Eric North aka “The Happiness Warrior” - avatar Eric North aka “The Happiness Warrior”


Ben Kingsley's character Cosmo in the 1992 cult classic Sneakers prophetically quipped , The world doesn't operate on reality, but on perception of reality. Those words have come to roost in this year 2020 as we find ourselves living in a world ...

Brandyn Cross - avatar Brandyn Cross

Metropolitan Business News

5 Key Factors To Starting A Website

Every business needs a website to be successful. However, this is a challenge for many due to the lack of coding and designing skills. The good news is, you do have a way around this—hire a deve...

News Co - avatar News Co

So You Want To Be A Project Manager? Here's What You Must Do

Project management is often a popular choice for people looking to make a mark in the organizations they work for. It's a great choice as well. If you hate monotony, love getting people and res...

News Co - avatar News Co

How to Deliver the Perfect Elevator Pitch

Do you struggle with explaining your career with professional or personal contacts, and you want to make a lasting impression? Whether you're looking for a job or building up your network, a wel...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

Three Asian Countries That are Leaders in Outsourcing

Would it surprise you to know that three of the top five ranked countries for ease of doing business are in Asia? Would it surprise you more to know that India and China aren’t even in the top 3...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

FCB and oOh! help Kiwis vote with dynamic campaign for Electoral Commission

oOh!media and FCB NZ are helping Kiwi voters exercise their democratic rights this general election, via a localised dynamic Out of Home campaign for the New Zealand Electoral Commission. The c...

Lighthouse Communications. - avatar Lighthouse Communications.


In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

Writers Wanted

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion