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Nurse Workforce Challenges in the United States: Implications for Policy

Listed author(s):
  • Linda H. Aiken
  • Robyn Cheung
Registered author(s):

    The United States has the largest professional nurse workforce in the world numbering close to 3 million but does not produce enough nurses to meet its growing demand. A shortage of close to a million professional nurses is projected to evolve by 2020. An emerging physician shortage will further exacerbate the nurse shortage as the boundaries in scope of practice necessarily overlap. Nurse immigration has been growing since 1990 and the U.S. is now the world’s major importer of nurses. While nurse immigration is expected to continue to grow, the shortage is too large to be solved by recruitment of nurses educated abroad without dramatically depleting the world’s nurse resources. Moreover, the domestic applicant pool for nursing education is very strong with tens of thousands of qualified applicants turned away annually because of faculty shortages and capacity limitations. The national shortage could be largely addressed by investments in expanding nursing school capacity to increase graduations by 25 percent annually and the domestic applicant pool appears sufficient to support such an increase. A shortage of faculty and limited capacity for expansion of baccalaureate and graduate nurse education require public policy interventions. Specifically public subsidies to increase production of baccalaureate nurses are required to enlarge the size of the pool from which nurse faculty, advanced practice nurses in clinical care roles, and managers are all recruited. Retention of nurses in the workforce is critical and will require substantial improvements in human resource policies, the development of satisfying professional work environments, and technological innovations to ease the physical burdens of caregiving. Because of the reliance of the U.S. on nurses educated abroad as well as the benefits to the U.S. of improving global health, the nation should invest in nursing education as part of its global agenda. Les États-Unis comptent le plus grand nombre d’infirmiers(ères) diplômés au monde – près de 3 millions – mais ils n’en forment pas suffisamment pour répondre à une demande en augmentation. Il devrait manquer près d’un million d’infirmiers(ières) diplômés, aux États-Unis, d’ici 2020. Et le déficit de médecins qui commence d’apparaître ne fera qu’exacerber le problème car les deux pratiques professionnelles sont nécessairement interdépendantes. L’immigration d’infirmiers(ères) n’a cessé d’augmenter depuis 1990 et les États-Unis sont désormais le premier pays d’accueil d’infirmiers(ères) étrangers au monde. Cette vague d’immigration devrait se poursuivre mais la pénurie est trop importante pour pouvoir être résorbée par des recrutements à l’étranger sans que cela ponctionne gravement les ressources en personnel infirmier au niveau mondial. Par ailleurs, les personnes désireuses de suivre une formation d’infirmier(ère) dans le pays sont nombreuses mais des dizaines de milliers de postulants qualifiés sont refusés chaque année en raison du manque de personnel enseignant et de l’insuffisance des capacités d’accueil dans les écoles d’infirmiers(ères). On pourrait largement pallier ces insuffisances en intensifiant les investissements consacrés aux écoles d’infirmiers(ières) de façon à accroître de 25 % par an le nombre des diplômés, ce qui paraît réaliste au regard du nombre actuel de candidats. Le manque de personnel enseignant et l’insuffisance des capacités de formation appellent l’intervention des pouvoirs publics. Précisément, des subventions publiques doivent aider à accroître le nombre d’infirmiers(ières) diplômés, ce qui élargira l’effectif au sein duquel on pourra recruter du personnel enseignant, des infirmiers(ères) cliniciens de haut niveau et des gestionnaires. Inciter les infirmiers(ères) à rester dans la profession est fondamental et cela nécessitera une amélioration significative des politiques de gestion des ressources humaines, la garantie d’un environnement de travail satisfaisant et des innovations technologiques pour alléger la charge physique que représente l’activité de soins. Compte tenu de l’importance des personnels infirmiers formés à l’étranger pour les États-Unis et des avantages qui résulteraient d’une amélioration générale de la santé publique, le pays devrait faire de l’investissement dans la formation d’infirmiers(ères) un des objectifs de l’action publique.

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    Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Health Working Papers with number 35.

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    Date of creation: 01 Oct 2008
    Handle: RePEc:oec:elsaad:35-en
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