It’s common knowledge that America and many other developed nations are facing some of the worst medical staff shortages in history. Maryland doesn’t have the worst shortage out of all the states – that would be California with a deficit of more than 44,000 nurses – but many parts of the Old Line State are dealing with dire nursing shortages that are only expected to worsen over the next few years.
A growing global population keeps the demand for nurses high everywhere, but only some areas are able to successfully fill the gaps that are being left by nurses who have retired, relocated, or moved onto different careers. Of course, it doesn’t help that nursing is just one out of thousands of occupations to choose from in an ever-expanding list of career options available to students.
Whether you’re an aspiring nursing student, researcher, or just someone who is interested in the dynamics of the situation, here are 14 facts that will help you better understand Maryland’s nursing shortage and what it means for this generation of medical graduates and professionals:
1. Advancing Nurses are Leaving Entry-Level Positions Vacant
Most nurses eventually go on to obtain certification in a specialized field such as pediatrics or family medicine. With this career advancement comes the ability to leave entry-level positions behind in search of a higher salary. For example, many registered nurses (RNs) study to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP) using RN to FNP online programs while working their first nursing job.
With an elevated credential like that, it wouldn’t make sense to continue working as an RN when FNPs earn an average salary of about $125,000. This is great news for nurses and nursing students, but it creates staffing issues for Maryland hospitals that wind up facing routine vacancies in entry-level positions.
2. Maryland’s Healthcare Staff Vacancy Rates Have Risen by 5% in the Past Decade
The vacancy rate is essentially the percentage of job openings that are left unfilled, typically due to the inability to find qualified job candidates. The entire U.S. is experiencing a shortage in skilled and experienced medical staff, and Maryland is feeling the impact of that trend in many of its healthcare services departments.
As a whole, Maryland’s health and human services industries have seen staff vacancy rates rise from just 7% in 2010 up to 12% as of 2019. The exact vacancy rate varies depending on the specialization and department. The Development Disabilities Administration (DDA) has one of the highest employment vacancy rates at about 15%. This statistic reflects the dire need for psychiatric nurses and other mental healthcare professionals in the state.
3. Direct Care Nursing Vacancies Have Doubled
The vacancy rate for nurses, physicians, and other healthcare providers who provide direct patient care literally doubled from 7% to 14% from 2014 to 2018. This pronounced jump indicates that medical employers in the state have run into a very hard time finding qualified professionals to fill open positions, which involved providing direct care.
School nursing departments, which provide direct care to school children, are seeing some of the worst vacancy rates, with only 3 out of 5 schools in the state having a full-time nurse on staff, and a quarter of schools having no on-site nurse at all. As a result, some school districts have resorted to having one nurse shuttle back and forth between several schools.
4. Baby Boomers are Increasing the Shortage
With the members of the baby boomer generation currently being 55-75 years old, anyone in this demographic has either already retired or is preparing to do so within the next 5-10 years. This unavoidable generational retirement trend has significantly increased the strain on Maryland’s nursing shortage.
Back in 2008, there were more than 1.2 million baby boomers working as nurses in the U.S. That number has dropped by about 60,000 every year due to nurses reaching retirement age. By 2020, the number of baby boomers will have fallen by more than 50% to less than 600,000. Of course, since baby boomers are the same age everywhere, these national stats reflect the exact predicament that Maryland’s healthcare sector is facing.
5. The State is Training Just Enough Nurses to Meet the Gap Left by Retiring Nurses
Academic reports show that Maryland’s universities are currently training roughly the same amount of nursing students as there are retiring nurses. That’s good, because it means all of those students will have jobs waiting on them as soon as they graduate. However, when you consider the other ways in which nurses are leaving the field other than retirement, there will still be a shortage that needs to be addressed for quite some time.
The mass exodus of baby boomers from the nursing industry is easily the biggest factor that is contributing to rising vacancy rates, so it will be a challenge for educators to produce enough graduates to keep up with the quickly rising demand.
6. The Shortage Will Probably Last for at Least 5 More Years
With so many factors contributing to Maryland’s nursing shortage, it’s unlikely that any fully sufficient solution will be implemented before 2025. Even if effective measures are put into place to attract more students to the field, it will take a few years before the effects of those efforts are realized.
As such, now is the best time for nursing students to embark on their career paths because it will put them in a position to enjoy the dropping unemployment rate. Beyond 2025, it’s possible that the vacancy rates could slowly start to decline, at which point finding a job as an inexperienced nurse in the state could become slightly more challenging.
7. Many Maryland-trained Nurses Wind Up Leaving the State
As mentioned earlier, the state is currently training about the same number of nurses that are retiring each year. That’s simply not going to be enough when you consider the fact that many of the nurses who are trained in Maryland wind up working in other states. With nursing shortages affecting every region, graduates have the option of getting up and moving to places where nurses earn higher salaries.
Maryland is a small state geographically, so it’s difficult to keep nurses employed within its borders, as there are only so many metropolitan areas to choose from outside of the greater Baltimore area.
8. Significant Shortages in Specialized Nursing Positions
Nursing positions related to psychiatric care and mental health services have some of the highest vacancy rates of any occupation in Maryland. In fact, the shortage of psychiatric beds has become so burdensome that the state’s Department of Health has been previously been held in contempt of court for failing to hospitalize individuals who had been given court-ordered hospitalization mandates.
In other words, the state can’t even hospitalize patients who have been sentenced to hospitalization by the courts. The lack of mental health nurses creates a situation in which there simply aren’t enough beds to accommodate all of the region’s mentally ill patients.
9. Maryland Has About 80,000 Nurses
While the state currently has a bustling workforce of more than 80,000 nurses, that’s not much when you consider the fact that they’re servicing a population of more than 6 million people. That means there’s only about 1 nurse for every 75 residents in the state, and that doesn’t account for tourists and visitors who might also need medical care.
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that developed nations should aim to have at least 40 nurses per 10,000 inhabitants on a country-wide or state-wide basis. Maryland’s nursing industry falls under less than half that suggested threshold, with only about 15 nurses per 10,000 inhabitants.
10. Medicaid Pays Less Reimbursements for Nurses in Maryland than in the Surrounding States
Nurses who provide in-home patient care are also in dire need in Maryland due to the fact that surrounding states offer more competitive pay to these kinds of a nurse. A nurse working in the state receives a reimbursement wage of about $35 per hour from Medicaid. While that’s better than Virginia’s $20-$30 reimbursement rate, it pales in comparison to the $50 per hour that nurses could be making in Washington D.C., Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
With every nurse aspiring to earn a higher salary, it has become difficult for Maryland to keep its in-home care providers due to this discrepancy in reimbursements rates. It’s too easy for a nurse to move a few hours down the road and make 30% more than they were making in Maryland. Until that problem is addressed, nurses will continue to leave for other surrounding states. In fact, taking steps to keep nurses employed within the state will probably be one of the most productive approaches.
11. The Gender Inequality Gap is Close to the National Average
Most people know that the majority of nurses are women, but not many people know that women account for more than 90% of the nursing workforce in the U.S. Not surprisingly, Maryland’s nursing demographics fall directly in line with the national male-female nurse ratio, as it’s common for most places to have 9 female nurses to 1 male nurse.
This gap might seem discouraging for a man who wants to become a nurse in Maryland, but in reality, it just means that being hired as a male nurse is almost a guarantee because hospitals and clinics are actively trying to reduce the gender inequality gap. Furthermore, reports show that male nurses earn almost $10,000 more per year than female nurses. This income advantage probably stems from the fact that male nurses are able to obtain specialty nursing jobs with greater ease due to the industry-wide initiative to hire more male nurses in all job positions.
12. Maryland Health Department Might Give the State’s Nurses a Raise in 2020
In recognizing the obvious need to give nurses incentives to stay in the state, Maryland’s Health Department has proposed the idea of giving nurses who work in state facilities and hospitals an 11.5% raise in 2020.
The pay raise would come in the form of a 5.5% increase in hourly wages combined with a 6% annual salary bonus. Splitting the extra come between a boosted hourly rate and a large bonus would give nurses a large lump sum reward to look forward to at the end of each year.
13. Regulators and Employers are Also Considering Improved Benefit Packages
In addition to raising wages and providing a yearly salary bonus, lawmakers and healthcare employers in the state are also considering the idea of providing better compensation packages in the form of more comprehensive health, life, and dental insurance coverage.
Setting aside budgets to fund such solutions will ensure that Maryland doesn’t face a severe decrease in the quality of service encountered in its hospitals and clinics. While nurses already receive competitive career benefits, local legislators need to be looking for ways to compete with surrounding states in the nursing sector rather than comparing their packages to those provided in other industries.
14. Maryland Nurses Enjoy a Low Unemployment Rate
While some of the stats mentioned above can paint a pretty bleak picture of Maryland’s nursing industry, students who aspire to become nurses in the state can look forward to a low unemployment rate of under 2%. That means that nursing graduates have about a 98% chance of being employed at any given time. As facilities are constantly trying to fill vacancies, even nurses with little or no experience can reliably find jobs in cities like Baltimore and Columbia.
Will Technology Help Alleviate the Shortage?
When you take all of the facts above into consideration, the global medical staff shortages might only be remediable through the use of technological solutions. The bottom line is, the population and the demand for medical services are expanding faster than the rate of new medical graduates entering into the workforce, so some form of innovation will be needed to account for the lack of manpower in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.