TAMPA, Fla. — Florida doesn't have enough nurses today, and if population and professional trends continue, a new report shows the state will be short nearly 60,000 nurses by 2035.
The report commissioned by the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida found that 14 years from now, Florida will lack 59,100 nurses including 37,400 registered nurses (RN) and 21,700 licensed practical nurses (LPN) needed to care for all of its residents.
The authors of the report used population demographics, predictions, and workplace trends to come up with their analysis.
The main takeaway: There are too few nurses entering the profession and too many walking away mid-career. Florida's demographics make matters worse.
With the population of people ages 65-74 projected to increase by 32 percent and the 75 and older population projected to increase by 74 percent over the next 14 years, the demand for nurses will only grow. The older a person is, the more likely they are to need medical attention.
How did this happen?
It's important to recognize just how demanding the nursing profession is. Just to get a foot in the door, one has to meet a rigorous educational standard. From there, it's an emotionally and physically taxing grind. The long shifts, exhausting hours, and persistent patient load can be overwhelming.
Dr. Rayna Letourneau is a professor at the University of South Florida. She specializes in workplace development for nurses.
"Nurses are expected to think quickly and critically, really anticipate the needs of what our patients are going to be," said Letourneau, who describes the shortage as a result of problems that have been going on for decades.
The pandemic made it worse.
Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic that started ravaging our country in 2020 made the situation worse. From coast to coast, nurses up and left the hospital to find an alternative way to make a living.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 1.1 million new nurses will be needed by 2022.
Letourneau says the burn-out of the nursing profession is nothing new but the pandemic put a spotlight on it.
"Unfortunately, it’s really bringing the negative to light. All of those demands on our nursing profession are increasing during this pandemic, more patients, sicker patients, we’re having to turn patients away at certain hospitals," she said.
The negativity could persuade the nurses of tomorrow to pursue a different career.
One key finding of the report looked at supply and demand scenarios taking into consideration Florida's growing population and current healthcare patterns. If barriers to accessing healthcare services could be reduced, demand for nurses will rise even more.
How do we fix it?
The report lays out specific recommendations to address the shortage. Here are a few:
- Increase supply of qualified faculty and campus resources for nursing programs.
- Undertake a study to understand why nurses move to or leave Florida, and create innovative solutions to increase retention and improve recruitment from other states.
- Focus expansion of nurse training programs in underserved communities, including options for training nurses in non-metropolitan areas.
Dr. Letourneau says finding a solution is complex and will take a collaborative effort.
"Promote a safe working environment for their nurses, make sure they're adequately recruited, adequately paid, provide them with an environment that allows them to take a day off when they need it," she said.
The silver lining
Despite the doom and gloom, Letourneau says it's an incredibly rewarding career.
Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system, natural helpers and healers. If you've had a good nurse in your life, you never forget them.
Nursing student Tracy Hammett will soon find out what it takes. She'll see the good, bad, and the ugly and she's ready.
"I’m really so excited on a personal level to have a job that’s really rewarding and go to work to make an impact in somebody’s life everyday," said Hammett.
She graduates in December.