Jennifer Larson, NurseZone feature writer
A 2000 study
released by the federal Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Health Professions noted
the following: “Consequences of the shortage include a negative impact upon the
profession and the public resulting in…job stress, inadequate working conditions, and
reduced professional satisfaction due to longer working hours and lesser flexibility in
scheduling, and introducing fatigue-related factors that increase the potential for
Sound familiar? All
of these factors are oft-cited effects of the nursing shortage, but this particular report
referred to a shortage of another important group of health care workers: pharmacists.
The nursing shortage
has become well-documented over the last few years. The American Hospital
Association has reported that there are at least 125,000 nursing positions currently
unfilled in U.S. hospitals. But other health care professions, like pharmacists and
radiology technicians, are experiencing severe shortages, too. And those shortages can and
do have a direct impact on nurses.
“It’s a critical
issue,” said Cheryl Peterson, MSN, RN, of the American Nurses Association. Anytime you
don’t have the full complement of providers and support personnel, it’s going to
According to the
2000 HHS report, “The Pharmacist Workforce: A Study of the Supply and Demand for
Pharmacists,” the 196,000 active pharmacists in 2000 represented the third largest
health professional group in the nation. And while the profession did grow over the course
of the 1990s, the demand for pharmaceutical services grew more rapidly. Some of the
increase in demand has been attributed to the increased use of prescription medications,
especially as the population has aged, along with the need for pharmacists to work at
What’s more, a
recent report from Modern Healthcare, Peterson reported, showed that the turnover
rate for some technicians is even higher than that of nurses. The turnover rate for nurses
is around 18 percent, while radiology technicians’ turnover rate is closer to 25
Gazette in West Virginia recently wrote that the shortage of radiology technicians may
be the worst health care worker shortage of all in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of
Labor estimates that the U.S. will need at least 75,000 more radiology techs by 2010.
The technology has
expanded so rapidly in recent years that a shortage of techs means a shortage of people to
conduct vital diagnostic tests such as ultrasounds, mammograms and CAT scans.
“We keep adding
equipment, but who’s going to run it?” asked Peterson.
adding up in hospitals, nurses are bound to feel the effects of the missing health care
workers. The shortages, especially of pharmacists, makes it hard for nurses to deliver
care as they have in the past, said Pam Thompson, executive director of the American
Organization of Nurse Executives.
“It impacts the
ability for efficiency of that care and the ability to have those colleagues available to
consult with,” she said.
Health care is
multidisciplinary, and everyone is affected by missing personnel, said Thompson, comparing
staff vacancies to missing puzzle pieces.
When there aren’t
enough pharmacists to go around, the delivery of medications can slow down. Without an
adequate number of pharmacists to handle a hospital’s needs, nurses may find themselves
waiting longer to obtain and administer medications to their patients. Pharmacy
technicians can help, but they cannot replace the pharmacists.
Nurses should still
be able to consult with pharmacists, despite the shortage, Thompson said.
“The question is,
will they get [a consultation] as quickly as they would like to…so that care is
delivered more quickly?” she asked.
A similar phenomenon
can occur with a shortage of technicians.
some pretty critical members of the team,” Peterson said. “And the reality is, when
you’re missing that member, the work doesn’t go away. You still have to have the
patient’s blood drawn.”
The nurse may have
to pick up the slack by doing more support tasks when other health care personnel are not
available. This can slow down the delivery of patient care, and it may contribute to the
already growing dissatisfaction that many nurses are expressing over their working
conditions, Peterson said.
Also, patients can
be affected by these personnel shortages. For example, with a shortage of radiology
technicians, patients may have to wait longer for X-rays or procedures may take longer.
forecast a slowdown in the shortage of hospital workers. Citing the aging Baby Boomers as
one reason for the growing number of patients who will need to be treated, she also noted
that there are not as many young people to fill the vacancies in hospital staffs.
The American Nurses
Association is trying to express the need for better workforce planning across the board
for the health care field, Peterson said.
“We’ve tried to
broaden our language and say, “Look, nurses aren’t the only shortage; we’ve got
shortages across the whole of the health care profession,’” she said. “We really
need to be having a discussion on…the workforce.”
saying that the design of the delivery of care needs to be carefully examined to take
these shortages’ causes and effects into account. Otherwise, the situation could
continue to worsen.
“We need all the
players on the team,” Peterson said.
© 2002. AMN
Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.