It is the nurse that takes your temperature and blood pressure. It is the nurse that cares for you daily during your stay at the hospital. In a lot of ways, nurses are responsible for much of your medical experiences.

Recently, however, America has been experiencing a nursing shortage, which is expected to up in intensity in the upcoming years.In fact, the shortage has become serious enough to gain the attention of President Barack Obama who is “alarmed” at the current problem. According to a conducted by the American Hospital Association, U.S. hospitals need approximately 116,000 RNs to fill vacant positions nationwide. What’s more, that number is expected to increase to 500,000 by the year 2025. In order to stop these shortages, The Council on Physician and Nurse Supply has determined that an additional 30,000 nurses would need to be graduated annually—a 30 percent growth from the current number of nursing graduates.

How it Happened

One could view the current nursing shortage as a domino effect. A current shortage of nursing faculty in American colleges is restricting enrollment. According to American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 40,285 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2007 due to insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints. Statistics show that the RN population under the age of 30 dropped from 9 percent in 2000 to 8 percent in 2004.

Because the number of new nurses is declining, the average age of the Registered Nurse is rising. Insufficient staffing coupled with the rising age of most nurses has increased stress levels and decreased job satisfaction causing many to leave the profession. A study conducted by Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002, found that nurses reported greater job dissatisfaction when faced with more patients than they can safely provide care for.

What This Means for You

Research is beginning to pile up demonstrating that inadequate levels of nurse staffing is affecting patient care. A report conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that the shortage of RNs, combined with increased work load, “poses a potential threat to the quality of care.”

In 2006, sixty-one year old Shirley Keck suffered brain damage and was paralyzed due to alleged nursing neglect. Keck had trouble breathing and was brought to Wesley Hospital in Wichita, Kansas by her daughter. Keck, who doctors believed was suffering from pneumonia, sat for seven hours while her condition deteriorated. Her daughter’s pleas for help were unanswered because the nursing staff had been overburdened that day—allegedly caring for more than 20 patients. Keck was actually suffering from a heart attack causing her lungs to fill with fluid. Ultimately, Keck and her family were awarded $2.7 million due to neglect

Protect Yourself

Although the statistics paint a grim picture, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. First, you can find out what your local hospital’s nurse-to-patient ratio is by going to The American Nurses Association website. Be sure you’re watching out for you and your loved ones health.