Nurse shortage overshadows health debate

Freedom New Mexico

While the president and Congress bicker over private insurance and tax funding in Washington, the question of who will provide our nation’s health care has a more direct, and important, meaning.

A growing shortage of doctors and nurses already affects many Americans’ ability to get the care they need. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports the current registered nurse shortage already is more than 250,000, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than a half-million new nursing jobs will be created between now and 2018. Analysts predict the shortage of nurses could grow to 1 million by 2020, as job growth and retirements outpace new nurses entering the field.

Our nation’s population is not only growing in size, but in age, meaning the demand for medical care will only increase in the coming years.

There’s no shortage of people looking to become nurses; classes generally fill up. However, there aren’t enough teachers to train them.

Complicating the issue is a growing debate over nurse training. Many people say we should depend more on trained nurses, and give them more decision-making authority, in order to mitigate the shortage of doctors. But a recent study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching concludes that two years of study aren’t enough to properly train nurses. All registered nurses, the study states, should have at least a bachelor’s degree. The study also notes, however, that many nursing schools’ curricula are outdated.

That doesn’t inspire confidence, especially in light of the number of errors already made in the medical profession. The Institute of Medicine has estimated that 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year due, at least in part, to medical errors ranging from wrong drugs and doses to wrong diagnoses. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality puts the number of fatal medical errors closer to 195,000 per year.

Arguments over the quality of health care need to focus more on ensuring that we’re producing enough medical professionals, and that they’re sufficiently trained to do their jobs well. If people don’t survive the treatment, the method of payment becomes irrelevant.