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Nursing- The Highest Paid Profession In Future?

The question is rhetorical, of course, and the answer is no. The reason, though, the question is being asked is because of the large projected worldwide shortage of nurses within the next decade-and-a-half.

The shortage is expected to arise on account of an increase in the demand for nurses. This increase in demand is linked to a variety of factors:

  • The world’s aging population is going to be needing more nursing care. The United Nations’ World Population Aging 2013 report has some interesting facts about the imminent graying of the world’s population. Population aging is happening on account of decreasing mortality and declining fertility, and the global share of older people (aged 60 years and above) will increase from 11.7% in 2013 to a projected 21.1% in 2050; or, in terms of numbers, from 841 million in 2013, to more than 2 billion in 2050.

  • Lifestyle changes are resulting in a spike in chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension; conditions which will require increased medical intervention.

  • Advances in medical science are making it possible for an individual to survive severe trauma, albeit with significantly reduced functional capabilities. Such individuals will require regular nursing care.

  • The move from therapeutic care to preventative care is going to place additional stress on the nursing fraternity, as nurses will constitute an inordinate proportion of the healthcare professionals driving preventative healthcare.

The demand has started rising in the developed world, and will gradually spread to the less developed world and least developed countries. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of registered nurses to grow 19%, in the USA, from 2012 to 2022; faster than the average for all occupations.

As a counterpoint to the increased demand for nurses in the developed world, are the constraints to supply in meeting this demand. The reasons for the supply constraints are primarily:

  • An increase in the number of nurses leaving the workforce, in the developed world, as the “baby boomers” generation reaches retirement age.

  • There is little or no nurse staffing surplus left to cut in large healthcare institutions, as most cuts were carried out at the turn of the last century; and on account of the realization that nurse staffing is closely associated with patient outcomes – quality of care reduces with a decrease in the nurse-to-patient ratio.

  • Given the lead time required to train a registered nurse, and the fact that the nursing profession still carries vestiges of its vocational origins, there is a significant lead time for new supply to narrow the demand gap.

This mismatch between demand and supply, as any person with an understanding of economics will tell you, will first result in an increase in wages. A paper, by Joanne Spetz and Ruth Given, modeling wage growth and supply in the US market, arrives at the conclusion that wages, adjusted for inflation, “must increase 3.2 – 3.8 percent per year between 2002 and 2016, with wages cumulatively rising up to 69 percent, to end the shortage”.

Hence the question: will nursing be the highest paid profession in the future? However, as wages increase, affected parties (healthcare organizations, governments, etc.) will look at tempering this increase through initiatives outside the healthcare profession.

Two developments will have a direct impact on wages that nurses can command:

  • Developments in robotics will make the job of nurses easier, thereby increasing their productivity. While it may be inadvisable and certainly unfeasible in the near future, to have robots play a direct role in patient care, they can certainly assist a nurse deliver better care, more efficiently.

  • Advances in medical science – specifically in genetics/epigenetics and stem cell research – may allow medical practitioners to alleviate the deleterious effects of old age (dementia, lower immunity, disequilibrium, and brittle bones) to such an extent as to reduce the burden on a country’s healthcare system.

Any which way, these are interesting and exciting times for the nursing profession, and the rhetorical question headlining this blog is just a concise articulation of the sign of the times.

We would be interested to hear your thoughts on the wage-potential of the nursing profession.


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