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U.S. Nursing Workforce on the Brink of Crisis

U.S. Nursing Workforce on the Brink of Crisis

A recent report by McKinsey & Company confirmed what many in the healthcare industry already knew−the United States needs more nurses. If substantial action isn’t taken, the country will face a critical shortage. Companies such as MedPro have been on the frontlines of recruitment and deployment, but a concerted effort is vital if the U.S. is to meet its growing healthcare needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic did not create the U.S. nursing deficit. A dwindling nursing workforce combined with an aging U.S. population sparked a gap in care. In 2019, close to 80 percent of hospital chief executives listed an RN shortage among their top staffing concerns, according to the Foundation of American College of Healthcare Executives. Still, new nursing licenses were growing at a rate of 4 percent a year based on 2016-19 NCLEX exam statistics. Then came the pandemic.

In “Assessing the lingering impact of COVID-19 on the nursing workforce,” authors Gretchen Berlin, RN, senior partner, Meredith Lapointe, partner Mhoire Murphy, partner, and Joanna Wexler, consultant, with McKinsey, found the pandemic magnified workforce and operational challenges. Though the number and intensity of COVID infections has declined, healthcare workers and facilities continue to struggle.

Dire Nursing Shortage by 2025

Stress and burnout have prompted many nurses to reconsider their career choice. In a recent survey, McKinsey found that 32 percent of responding RNs will probably leave their current position in direct patient care, while some planned to leave the workforce entirely, a 10 percentage point increase in less than 10 months. Respondents listed insufficient staffing levels as their number one reason for leaving, ahead of a desire for a higher-paid position, and thirdly, not feeling supported at work and the emotional toll of the job. At the same time, 90 percent of hospital leaders responding to a Hospital Insights Survey said workforce shortages were impacting elective surgeries. Eighty-four percent said a lack of clinical support staff inhibited increasing patient volume overall. The McKinsey report predicts the country’s nursing shortage could “reach 200,000 to 450,000, or 10 to 20 percent, by as early as 2025” as healthcare providers continue to treat COVID and COVID-related illnesses, and it’s not just RNs who will be in short supply. LPNs and CNAs all reported a more than 20 percent likelihood of leaving in McKinsey’s fall 2021 survey.

Determining Factors

The pandemic motivated many Americans to reassess their priorities and careers, and nurses were not immune to this phenomenon. Nurses with less than 10 years of experience listed higher pay as the biggest factor for leaving their job. Those with 11 years or more of experience cited retirement and the physical toll of nursing as their top reasons for leaving. The five greatest determining factors nurses considered for staying were:  a safe environment, work-life balance, caring and trusting teammates, meaningful work, and a flexible work schedule. All the listed factors are obtainable goals, but they will require innovative thinking and new partnerships in the existing healthcare system.


Taking Action

To meet staffing needs, McKinsey contends the U.S. must “more than double the number of new graduates and those staying in the workforce for the next three years,” a seemingly daunting task. Still, the healthcare industry could take measures to alleviate the gap between supply and demand. Healthcare providers, federal and state governments, private-sector organizations, and the broader society all have a role to play in addressing the issue. McKinsey listed four areas of “potential opportunity” to help meet the growing demand for nurses.

  1. Make nursing a more attractive option by creating a more visible career pathway and showing potential candidates how they could thrive in the profession. McKinsey also suggested that institutions identify and train new talent from adjacent industries or international programs and encourage allied health professionals to consider nursing.
  2. Increase the number of academic and clinical spots. Even if thousands of people applied to nursing school, there are not enough open spots, educators, clinical rotation spots, or mentors to accommodate more students. McKinsey suggests creating monetary incentives for educators and providing greater flexibility in teaching models, such as part-time work, rotational teaching, and special partnerships to attract talent.
  3. Redesign clinical education through new partnerships. Healthcare providers could team up with colleges and universities to pinpoint and address skills gaps and pair up candidates and employers. An example is Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, and University Hospitals in Ohio, which partnered with Cuyahoga Community College with a goal to educate and hire 100 entry-level-full-time workers by June 2022.
  4. Innovate care delivery models. Airline customers book their own flights, pick out their seats, and handle other details that were once the airline’s responsibility. Healthcare could take a similar approach to maximize nurses’ time and energy and utilize analytics “to improve efficiency in planning and deployment.”


The latest McKinsey report confirms that the United States faces an unprecedented challenge in delivering healthcare. Still, the care gap is not insurmountable. The continued efforts of companies such as MedPro to fill positions with qualified foreign-educated nurses, along with innovative thinking and collaborative efforts within and outside of the industry, will be essential if the country is to meet its future healthcare needs.


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