The Global Nursing Shortage, and How to Fix It

Nurses Week

Nurses are vitally important professionals who care for us when we’re at our most vulnerable. Whether we meet them in doctor’s surgeries, A&Es or even disaster areas and war zones, we rely on nurses to help us and our loved ones get better.

But while nursing can be a deeply rewarding career it can also be emotionally taxing, and the hours are often long and irregular—with the result that healthcare employers often struggle to fill roles. Let’s take a look at the state of the nursing labour market, and ways employers can attract more candidates. Because let’s face it—we can’t live without nurses.

Employer demand for nurses is high—and climbing

Today demand for nurses is greater than ever. People around the world are living longer, and of course, older people tend to use more healthcare services. In fact, according to the UN, the number of people in the world aged 60 or older is expected to more than double by 2050, exceeding two billion.

NHS data shows that there are more than 23,443 nursing vacancies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland—equivalent to 9% of the workforce. The Office of National Statistics reports that nurse vacancies increased by 50% from 2013 to 2015.

The global demand for nurses is reflected in Indeed data: Jobs for registered nurses make up 8.4% of all postings on Indeed in the US; more than 3% in the UK; and more than 1% each in Australia, Canada and Germany.

Lagging talent supply can’t keep pace

However there’s just one problem. The current supply of nursing talent is not keeping up with skyrocketing demand. Today 8 of the world’s 12 largest economies have a serious nurse shortage. Russia has just half of the nurses it needs, Japan and the US have only about a third and the UK—most worryingly of all—has less than a fifth. Did somebody just say “crisis”?

There is a severe nurse talent gap across markets.

The impact of the global nursing shortage is clear: When hospitals have insufficient staff, nurses are overworked, stressed out and dissatisfied with their jobs. As a result, patient care can suffer.

What employers can do to feed the nursing pipeline

How can we address this shortage and fend off a potential breakdown in our healthcare systems?

Better compensation, greater professional autonomy, stronger management and training programs, and more flexibility in location and scheduling could make nursing careers more attractive and rewarding for jobseekers. Policies that make it easier for nurses from abroad to work in the UK are another approach.

While employers may face obstacles when it comes to attracting the nursing talent, listening closely to what nurses want should make a big difference to their efforts. In fact, the simple act of listening is probably one of the best gifts employers could give their nurses today, or any day.