An exhausted nurse in a hospital depicting the nurse shortage in the us

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Why is there a nurse shortage in the US? How can hospitals and the government address it?

The US nurse shortage is predicted to reach up to 5.7 million by 2030. It’s caused not by a lack of registered nurses, but by high turnover. Causes of the shortage include COVID-19-induced departures, burnout, a dearth of nursing educators, and more.

Continue reading to learn about the factors causing the nursing shortage.

The Critical State of Nursing

There is a critical nurse shortage in the US—yet some say it’s not from a lack of registered nurses, but instead stems from punishing working conditions that drive them to quit. For patients, the shortage could mean a lower quality of care and overcrowded emergency rooms.


Medical advances and improved living standards have increased Americans’ lifespans. By 2050, people over 65 are expected to comprise 22% of the population, up from 12% in 2000. With more people living with chronic health conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, nursing care will become even more critical in the decades ahead. 

By 2030, healthcare providers could face a shortfall of up to 5.7 million nurses. However, some argue the shortage isn’t strictly a numbers issue, but one of retention. There are plenty of registered nurses available, but difficult working conditions are pushing many nurses to leave, which exacerbates existing pressures on the healthcare system.

Nursing Shortage Causes 

Experts attribute the ongoing nursing shortage to a combination of factors, including fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, heightened burnout rates, a scarcity of nursing educators, and visa restrictions that prevent foreign-trained medical professionals from filling US nursing positions.

  • Covid-19 pandemic. Constant exposure to grueling work conditions led 100,000 nurses to leave the workforce between 2020 and 2021.
  • Burnout. The pressures of the unprecedented health crisis exacerbated a host of challenges nurses already faced including understaffing, increased workloads, extended work hours, and inadequate support.
  • Nursing educator shortage. Universities have struggled to attract nursing instructors due to their inability to offer salaries that can compete with those in clinical nursing roles.
  • Visa restrictions. In 2023, the US State Department froze new visa applications, leaving thousands of qualified, foreign-educated medical professionals waiting until at least 2025 to fill open US nursing jobs.

Responses to the Shortage

To address the nursing shortage, some universities are spearheading accelerated training programs that cut nursing training from four years to one. To qualify, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree and satisfy eight prerequisite courses; graduates of these programs must pass a national exam.

But skeptics question whether nursing students will be adequately prepared to enter the profession after just 12 months of training—fearing they’ll receive subpar instruction or be rushed through programs. 

Looking Ahead 

The Biden administration allocated $100 million to expand the nursing workforce, but skeptics say it won’t adequately address the public’s concern about the shortage of nurses in critical care areas

Industry experts say that a multipronged approach involving various stakeholders is key to addressing the nursing shortage crisis and revitalizing the profession. They recommend the following strategies: 

Legislative measures can supplement these initiatives, including:

What’s Causing the Nurse Shortage in the US?

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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