Nursing Shortage and Immigration

A recent report from Business Week has stated that there are at least 100,000 nursing vacancies across the United States today. However, with Obama’s healthcare reforms going through Congress, this number has the potential to increase significantly, as the millions of Americans who would be insured under the reforms would necessitate even more hiring than was expected.

With the American economy as it is, many are pushing for an increase in domestic training for nurses, but the short term crisis would persist despite long term planning. Some hospital administrators are consequently taking action to right this shortage by recruiting nurses from out of the country.

This plan has been very unpopular with nurses’ unions and those who support Obama’s healthcare reforms. Current nurses are being pushed out of the healthcare industry by poor work environments and over-scheduling as a consequence of the shortage itself.

By improving the work standards for hospitals, many nurses’ unions believe that more nurses would be encouraged to remain at their jobs. Bringing in foreign nurses would only aggravate the problem, as it circumvents the issues being faced by nurses in the field already. There are hundred of thousands of registered nurses in America who have left their jobs or have found work in other countries as a result of the conditions of American hospitals and healthcare facilities.

With jobs being placed without regard for the work environment, hospital administrators would lose the incentive to create a more pleasant working environment, while also taking nurses away from other countries. Importing nurses would later present a long term problem for American nurses who’s jobs will have been filled by outsiders.

The Arguments

Proposed bill by Floridian Representative Robert Wexler: Allow for the extension of 20,000 visas to foreign nurses every year for the next three years, bringing in 60,000 nurses total, filling a large gap of today's shortage.

Obama's economic stimulus as a solution: Obama allocated stimulus funds to benefit healthcare workers, by increasing education and encouraging students to pursue the field. Additionally, Obama hopes to increase the capacity at nursing schools, allowing workers from other industries to gain the education they need to become nurses.

Government Stepping In

A Floridian Representative introduced H.R. 2536, The Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act in May of 2009 that would allow 20,000 nurses to enter America in order to help fill in the nursing gap. This bill would account for 20% of the nursing vacancies being filled, yet many Americans are rejecting it. Though the increase in nursing visas would help to lure nurses to unpopular areas of the United States to fill jobs, Obama hopes to take care of the gap another way.

One of the biggest complaints in the nursing field is the shortage on education. Because of cuts to education and the recession, nursing teachers are being laid off, which limits the number of nursing students graduating from accredited programs. Under Obama’s healthcare reforms, more teachers would be hired, allowing more nurses to enter the workforce. A stimulus to domestic education for nurses would allow Americans interested in becoming nurses to pursue the education they need, whether it be in traditional classroom format or via distance learning online nursing degree programs, to fill the nursing shortage in the long term. Obama stated in March, "There are a lot of people who would love to be in that helping profession, and yet we just aren't providing the resources to get them trained—that's something we've got to fix."

Obama has already set aside $100 million dollars for the encouragement of nursing. The economic stimulus bill is intended to help more nurses graduate from school. Furthermore, the economic stimulus will help those who have lost their jobs as a result of the recession. Those who are suffering from unemployment have a means of gaining higher education and a growing industry to join.

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Nursing Shortage and Education Waitlists

A bit of history on the Nursing Shortage

There is a long history of nurse shortages in American hospitals, however the current vacancy rate, 16.3% as noted by the American Health Care Association in 2008, is the worst reported since the sixties.

Today's nursing shortage, according to Health Affairs, started about a decade ago in 1998 and peaked in 2001 with an average vacancy rate of 13%. They also state that the shortage will grow, as baby boomers grow older and need additional medical care.

The nursing shortage itself has been an enormous factor that is driving nurses out of the workforce. Stress of long hours and understaffing has caused many nurses to look into other employment opportunities in the private healthcare sector. This has exacerbated the problem even further, as the nurses that make it through crowded nursing schools don't necessarily enter hospitals after graduation.

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