‘Global crisis’: 13 million nurses needed worldwide over next decade

There was a nursing shortage before the pandemic and the situation is even worse now. A new study points to the need to recruit and retain more nurses around the world.

Healthcare leaders across the United States have said there’s a nursing shortage, but a new report says it’s a global problem.

Up to 13 million nurses will be needed worldwide over the next 10 years, according to a new study released Tuesday. That’s roughly half the total of 28 million nurses working across the globe.

Howard Catton, CEO of the International Council of Nurses and co-author of the report, said there was already a shortage of 6 million nurses before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the coronavirus has made matters worse.

More than two years into the pandemic, many nurses are making it clear they plan to leave the industry. Catton said the shortage of nurses looms as a “global crisis.”

“This is a global health crisis, and it requires a fully funded and actionable ten-year plan to support and strengthen nurses and the health and care workforce to deliver health for all,” Catton said in a statement.

The report was compiled by the International Centre for Nurse Migration in partnership with the International Council of Nurses and CGFNS International, a non-profit organization which evaluates the credentials of nurses and other healthcare professionals.

James Buchan, the lead author of the report, said governments must do more to address “the growing worldwide shortage of nurses.” Buchan is a professor at the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Edinburgh.

“COVID-19 has had a terrible impact on the nursing workforce in terms of the personal effect it has had on individual nurses, and the problems it has exposed within many healthcare systems,” Buchan said in a statement. “Pre-existing shortages exacerbated the impact of the pandemic and burned-out nurses are leaving because they cannot carry on any longer.”

Some countries are recruiting nurses internationally to address their own shortage. There’s growing concern that some lower-income countries could end up serving as “source countries” to more affluent nations.

Franklin A. Shaffer, president and CEO of CGFNS, warned of a “migration tsunami” in nursing.

“The preexisting unequal distribution of nurses around the world will be exacerbated by large-scale international recruitment to high-income countries as they look for a ‘quick fix’ solution to solving their nursing shortages, which will only widen inequalities in access to healthcare globally,” Shaffer, a co-author, said in a statement.

Hospital leaders around the country have said they are dealing with a shortage of nurses. The American Hospital Association and other groups are calling on Congress to help provide more funding to train and retain nurses.

Around the country, nurses have said they are frustrated and overwhelmed after working in a pandemic for two years. Some said they aren’t getting enough support from healthcare organizations. Some have retired or left hospitals to take more lucrative jobs with staffing agencies.

The situation isn’t likely to improve anytime soon. As many as 40% of nurses said they plan to walk away in two years, according to a study published last month in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. That study also indicated about 20% of doctors also plan to leave in two years.

Here are some other recommendations from the report.

Train new nurses: It’s imperative for many countries to recruit and train new nurses, due to rising demand fueled by the pandemic and the number of nurses who are leaving. Countries should expand the capacity of the nurse education system.

Safe staffing levels: Countries must make a commitment to provide the necessary staffing levels of nurses.

Employers: Providers need to make nursing careers more attractive. They must address burnout, focus on improving their workplace environment and guarantee adequate staffing. Providers also must offer attractive pay and career opportunites. Healthcare organizations should also offer access to continuing education.

Workforce impact assessment: To improve the retention of nurses, providers (and nations) must assess the experiences of nurses during the pandemic and find out what they want.

Global update: The report suggests the World Health Organization do an update of its "State of the World’s Nursing" report to assess the pandemic’s damage to the nursing workforce.