Nurses: An Economic Barometer

Rising prices for food and gasoline coupled with a staggering economy are having at least one positive effectâ€"a temporary end to a critical shortage of nurses. The uptick in nursing numbers is taking varied forms,

“The trained nurse has become one of the great blessings of humanity, taking a place beside the physician and the priest.”—William Osler, MD

Rising prices for food and gasoline coupled with a staggering economy are having at least one positive effect—a temporary end to a critical national shortage of nurses.

The uptick in nursing numbers is taking varied forms, according to a Wall Street Journal report—some nurses who had left their jobs are returning to work, many part-time nurses are opting to work extra shifts, and nurses who had planned to retire are postponing it. There has also been a jump in the number of nurses who are going back to school for refresher courses after being out of nursing for several years.

The reason many observers believe that the relief is temporary is because the nursing profession is often a barometer of how the economy is doing. Hospitals desperate for nurses have long offered them flexible schedules, allowing nurses to custom-fit their work hours around family and finances.

About 90% of nurses are women and many cut back on their work hours in boom times to raise a family. But in lean times, many nurses go back to work full time, often to replace lost income when a spouse is laid off or is downsized into a lower-paying job. In fact, the growth rate in the number of nurses is 50% higher in years of economic downturns than in years when the economy is healthy. Last year, for example, there was a net increase of 113,000 nurses in the work force, the biggest jump in five years.

365,000Number of new healthcare jobs created in the past 12 months.(US Labor Department, 2008)

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