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No End In Sight For California's Nursing Shortage As Veterans Leave High-Pressure, High-Risk Job

A health care worker holds a sign protesting the lack of PPE in Southern California.
The pandemic has caused a shortage of nurses, according to a new study from UC San Francisco.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images North America)
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Nurses are swapping high-pressure jobs for a career change, early retirement or less demanding health care assignments. At the same time, employers have been reluctant to hire less experienced nurses, possibly because of the difficulty of onboarding them during the pandemic.

Those are some of the findings of a new report from the UC San Francisco ​​Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care, which projects the current nursing shortfall to continue for at least the next five years.

The authors estimate a current shortage of 40,567 full-time equivalent registered nurses, a 13.6% gap projected to persist until 2026, according to an analysis of preliminary data from the 2020 Survey of California Registered Nurses and final data from the 2019-20 Annual RN Schools Survey.

California currently has more than 350,000 registered nurses employed in its hospitals, clinics and other facilities, as well as more than 450,000 licensed nurses. Among employed registered nurses in California, an estimated 30% are over 55, according to the report.

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California is also producing fewer nurses. Education programs had to decrease enrollments and reduce class sizes during the pandemic because students couldn’t fulfill their clinical requirements while hospitals and clinics were stretched thin. The report, however, says enrollment is expected to bounce back as schools report increased interest in nursing programs.

The study’s authors say a clear path to jobs and mentoring by older nurses may help address the shortfall.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.