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What Is The Nursing Where It's Needed Act?
In 2019, the Nursing Where it's Needed (Nursing WIN) Act, was created, with the aim of providing underserved communities with qualified nurses.
It was introduced by Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who stressed the importance of addressing critical shortages in nursing as "baby boomers age into retirement and require more healthcare services".
The Nursing Shortage in the United States
The Nursing WIN act is a response to what many are predicting to be a national nursing crisis.
It was announced in 2019 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics claimed that an additional 1.1 million nurses would be needed to fill vacant roles, many of which are in underserved areas.
But then 2020 happened, and the crisis worsened. Many of the issues that led to the nursing shortage and the implementation of the Nursing WIN act were amplified by the spread of COVID-19. These issues include:
A Lack of Nursing Educational Programs
Qualified nurses are needed to teach the next generation of nurses. Nursing students also require classroom space, clinical sites, and other resources. None of those things come easily or cheaply, and so nursing education is often left behind.
An Aging Population
Medical technology is more advanced than ever. We can treat more diseases, provide faster diagnoses, and help vulnerable seniors to manage their daily lives long into old age.
It's great news for humanity, but it's a huge drain on the nursing profession. Older people are more likely to seek medical care, and in the case of the recent pandemic, they are also more likely to come to harm.
As the population grows and the average life expectancy climbs, a greater strain will be placed on professional nurses and the healthcare system.
According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), over half a million registered nurses are in the process of retiring. There are many more nurses ready to take their place, but it's a constant struggle—one in, one out.
Nursing is also a very challenging profession, and so many nursing professionals quit long before retirement age. During the pandemic, many healthcare professionals headed for the door in fear of their own safety and to protect their families.
What are the Effects of a Nursing Shortage?
There are a couple of major issues with nursing shortages. The first is financial, as fewer nurses mean healthcare organizations are desperate to keep the ones they have and hire the ones available. As a result, they're paying more money and expending more resources, which places pressure on the entire organization.
Higher wages might sound like a good thing, but it's one of the reasons there are so few nurses in underserved areas. Rural hospitals can't afford to pay the high salaries being paid in big cities, and so they're forced to go without.
It's not all good news for nurses, either. The low staff numbers and climbing patient rates means there is a huge disparity between the number of nurses and the number of patients. Nurses have more responsibilities than ever, and that increases the risk of nursing burnout.
How Does the Nursing WIN Act Work?
One of the ways that the Nursing WIN act aims to remedy nursing shortages is via funding opportunities such as the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program.
The program covers 60% of a nurse's unpaid student debt if they work for 2 years in an underserved community.
It's a financial incentive for the nurse and a way to serve communities in dire need of healthcare professionals.
It might be a drop in the ocean, but it's still a step in the right direction and one that could lead to major improvements for the healthcare industry.
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