AUGUST 30, 2021—Hospitals in every corner of the country are once again buckling under the weight of the coronavirus. But unlike earlier surges when intensive care capacity flexed to grow the number of available beds or acquire additional ventilators, the challenge for health systems today is neither space nor supplies—it’s staff.

Even before the coronavirus, US hospitals were short about 200,000 nurses. The situation is far worse today. Nurses are superheroes of this pandemic. But they’re not superhuman. Tired and traumatized after more than a year on the front lines, nurses are vacating the practice in historic numbers.


Roughly one-third of nurses practicing today were born before 1964. That means there are roughly 640,000 experienced nurses are nearing retirement.

  • Absent a massive infusion of qualified nurses, patient care—and, crucially, patient outcomes—will plummet because nurse staffing directly influences patient mortality. Increasing a nurse’s workload by just one patient increases patient mortality by 7 percent, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies.


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