Rescued by millennials?

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

When it comes to skilled-care staffing, the future outlook is bleak. If it's possible, the situation for nurses might be even worse.

How bad is it? This bad: The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be more than a million registered nurse openings by 2024. You can bet that many of those openings will be in the post-acute care environment.

For this we can thank two main causes: an aging nation and fast-approaching retirements for many now in the profession.

And it's not like the pinch isn't already being felt. A recent analysis by Reuters found that hospitals are now paying billions to find and keep nurses. Among the incentives being dangled are better pay, signing bonuses, free housing and even student-loan repayments. Skilled care operators also are beginning to offer recruiting sweeteners that would have been unheard of a decade ago.

Still, the trending is not good, and there does not appear to be a hopeful sign. Well, there may be one.  

Young adults comprising the millennial generation (those born between 1982 and 2000) are almost twice as likely as boomers to choose a nursing career, according to a Health Affairs study.

Millennials? What about those nasty stereotypes accusing them of being entitled, lazy narcissists still living at home? This is the future face of nursing? Maybe.

One possible explanation for millennials' nursing interest is that many were spooked by the Great Recession of 2007, and they may be seeking careers less vulnerable to economic downturns.

Yes, many 18- to 34-year-olds watched the worst economic downturn in nearly a century from the sidelines. Still, it was  a jarring experience. Many saw their parents lose jobs, homes and a lifetime of investments — seemingly overnight.

Or it could be that a nursing career fits another stereotype about this group: that they want to perform meaningful work that makes a contribution. Let's hope that's the case. For when it comes to nursing, this sector will need all the help it can get. And then some.