The primary concern will be the impact it has on the ability of nurses to provide quality health care. With fewer staff, nurses are required to work longer hours and assume additional responsibilities. Overworked nurses, burdened with fatigue and job stress, are more prone to accidental errors and a reduction in timely medical attention. A survey of registered nurses indicated that 79 percent of hospital-employed RNs believed that short staffing contributed to a reduction in the quality of patient care (Buerhaus et al, 2005). A long-term and escalating nursing shortage could contribute to the 98,000 deaths per year due to medical errors as reported by the Institute of Medicine in 2000 (Buerhaus et al, 2005). Aside from the important issue of the quality of patient care is the factor of rising health care costs.
As the labor supply of qualified nurses shrinks, the competition for nurses increases. A wage war may result from the shortage and will contribute to the rising costs as hospitals increase the wages and compensatory packages for their staff. Costs associated with temporary hiring practices have also increased due to the shortage.
While an increase in wages may seem to benefit the nurses, increased demands may not be worth the cost. Nurses working extended shifts and longer hours may come under increased scrutiny from administrators and government regulators struggling to eliminate the human errors and the increased cost of malpractice insurance. According to Rivers, "An increase in errors related to fatigue significantly increases the cost of malpractice insurance". The continuing nursing shortage will have its greatest effects on future nurses that will be entering the field or are currently enrolled in a nursing program.
Nursing, a field that will have the greatest number of job openings in the next decade, may find it is short of qualified instructors in the future. As wages increase, instructors may be tempted to leave teaching positions and take a position as a practicing nurse to reap the economic benefits.
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