Nursing hit a serious jolt when the recession began, but it appears that even when the economy starts to pick up, there will be further challenges facing the healthcare industry. Much has been made of our current surplus of qualified nurses due in part to younger baby boomers deciding not to retire or returning to work from retirement because of financial turbulence. However, recent studies have predicted a mass-retirement in our near future that will wreak havoc on the healthcare industry.
It is predicted that baby boomer nurses and doctors retiring in the next decade or so will leave many newly-insured Americans unable to find a primary care physician.
The Center for Workforce Studies of the Association of American Medical Colleges conducted a study that shows that nearly 40 percent of doctors are over age 55. Furthermore, baby boomers make up large percentages of the practitioners of key specialties. Baby boomers make up 37 percent of family medicine and general practitioners, 42 percent of general surgeons, 33 percent of pediatrics, and 35 percent of internal medicine and pediatrics.
The Bernard Hodes Group conducted the Nursing Management Aging Workforce Survey, determining that about a third of America's nurses are 50 or older, and over half of them reported that they intend to retire in the next 10 years.
The Group predicts that even with our current surplus, there will not be enough new registered nurses to replace those who will retire before 2014.
Vanderbilt University also predicts such a shortage. In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, professor Peter Buerhaus and colleagues Douglas Staiger and David Auerbach predict that there will be at least 100,000 fewer doctors in the workplace than even the 1.1 million that the federal government predicts will be necessary by 2020 due tot he new healthcare reform law. They also found that older doctors aren't as active as those who are younger than 55, so the number of physicians required for America may, in fact, be far higher that what is predicted at this point.
"Moving into the future, we see a very large shortage of nurses, about 300,000," said Buerhaus. "That number does not account for the demand created by reform. That's a knockout number. It knocks the system down. It stops it."
Lori Heim (54), president of the American Association of Family Practitioners, agreed with these reports. "My age group is looking at when we are going to retire," said Heim. "More physicians are changing their practice, doing things that have less calls.
They want administrative roles."
While Heim's Association supported the health-care overhaul, it thinks the law does not go far enough to address the workforce shortages projected for the coming decade.
Another professor, this one from New York University, Christine Kovner conducted a survey that found that 13 percent of newly registered nurses changed principal jobs after a year and that 37 percent of nurses are ready to change jobs.
"I think the big story is . . . the future of nursing is dominated by aging baby-boomer nurses who are going to retire, and we are looking at massive shortages," warned Buerhaus. "Others are not picking up the retirements of physicians. There's just not going to be as many doctors as needed out there."