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The Coming Nursing Shortage?

More about my critique of macro forecasting |


| Mark Thoma Misses the Point

June 28, 2005

The Coming Nursing Shortage?

Michael Mandel

Alwin, who has worked as an intensive care nurse for years, has a post about the coming shortage of nurses:

...we’ll hit a sort of “brick wall” in the year 2010. That’s the year that the US government forecasts that we hit the tipping point, where there will be just enough nurses to take care of all the patients in the normal course of the day. After 2010, we begin to fall down a rather slippery slope.

Because after 2010 it doesn’t matter how much we spend. There just won’t be enough nurses to take care of all the patients in the US. And it doesn’t matter if at that point we begin a “crash program” to train nurses in this country. Because newly graduated nurses, like newly graduated physicians, need supervision, time, and experience in order to become safe and competent practitioners.

I dug up the relevant government study, a report entitled "Projected Supply, Demand, and Shortages of Registered Nurses: 2000-2020." Here's what it said:

Based on what is known about trends in the supply of RNs and their anticipated demand, the shortage is expected to grow relatively slowly until 2010, by which time it will have reached 12 percent. At that point demand will begin to exceed supply at an accelerated rate and by 2015 the shortage, a relatively modest 6 percent in the year 2000, will have almost quadrupled to 20 percent.

This is something I need to ponder.

04:22 PM


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This is very interesting. My step-mother is a nurse, back on the island of Kauai, and the local hospitals there are firing their nurses, not looking for more. Instead, they're being replaced with nurse's assistants. My question is if the nurses are actually providing a service that cannot be provided by an alternative source. Besides, if there is that much demand for nurses, wages should rise and more people will transfer into the industry, ideally. Is there reason to think this won't happen?

Posted by: William Ryan at June 28, 2005 09:51 PM

Supply never meets demand because price never meets cost. This is the myth of competitive pay. When everyone pays it, there is no competition. Medical care is about as far from a free market as one can get, unless you consider all the creative accounting, cost shifting, and third party reimbursement that goes on the pinnacle of a free market. As complete a separation of provision of service from payment of costs as one can probably get, which is why healthcare costs grow without bounds.

Posted by: Lord at June 29, 2005 01:05 PM

I suggest you check back on the recent "Study" (projected supply....) there have been some corrections made (ex: hawaii state)

Posted by: jm at July 7, 2005 05:26 PM

This is a very strong argument for free trade.

Our potential nurses are wasting their lives at jobs that should be done in Bangalore and Shanghai. We should allow our parasitic industries (cf textiles, sugar, autos, etc) to wind-down so American labor can be freed up to retrain as nurses, teachers and construction workers. In the process, of course, we would have cheaper cost-of-living, which effectively raises the salary of every single American.

As for the displaced workers, any worker sustained by immorally forcing me to buy their product is, in my opinion, a parasite. They should not only get no help finding new jobs, the pampered autoworkers and longshoremen should refund me all the money they've stolen from me through making my purchases more expensive over the decades.

Not only is this win-win in the long run, it's the only solution unless we'd like to import millions of nurses from Africa to the Phillippines, nevermind what such a brain-drain would do to healthcare in those countries, to add to the millions of construction workers we currently import from Mexico.

Posted by: Peter St. Onge at July 23, 2005 07:59 AM

Oh my gosh to Peter St. Onge. While I understand and appreciate the shortage of all health care professionals, there obviously is a basic misunderstanding of economics here. To be successful, a country has to have a base of manufacturing to keep the trade deficit in check. I take offense to calling those who may not be as intellectually gifted to pursue jobs that require knowledge of some tough science courses as parasitic. We should all respect those who contribute to the economy everyday by doing the jobs that some would say is "grunt work". They are good people.

I would love to explain further basic economics but I don't think the space would allow.

Posted by: MB at October 29, 2005 10:03 AM

I don't understand why don't they make it easier for foreign medical studunt to become nurses in the USA. Of course with all the nessesary procedures e.g. grades transfer etc.

Posted by: Sheyla nurse at March 27, 2006 01:52 AM

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