60 Seconds with... Peter Buerhaus, Vanderbilt Univ. Medical Center

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Q: Your most recent research shows providers should be happy that the nursing shortage may be only half as bad as predicted in 2000, right? A: If you can be happy living with a category 4 hurricane parked off shore, as opposed to a category 5, be as happy as you want. Cutting projections in half is definitely good news,but a shortage of 350,000 to 400,000 is more than enough to really damage the healthcare system, maybe even shut it down.

Q: What do you mean?

A: That would still be three times beyond the current shortage we're experiencing when it's at its height.

Q: What's the source of the good news?

A: The emergence of more people in their late 20s or early 30s looking at new job paths. The 9/11 experience, stronger recruiting and nurse awareness programs, and earnings that are going up in a bad economy are a powerful combination that landed on them. 9/11 kind of spooked some people. They looked at their lives and asked if what they were doing was meaningful and gave satisfaction.

Q: How does the general shortage affect nursing home operators?

A: If we run out of nurses, everyone will be trying to rob the other, so that means there will be wage pressures. It's something employers need to consider. Frankly, it could be worse. If the government doesn't have these demand forecasts right, I'm worried demand may be even stronger.

Peter Buerhaus is a nurse staffing researcher with Vanderbilt University Medical Center.