Nationally, about 185,000 registered nurses graduate nursing programs every year, which is not too far from the 195,000 that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates are needed to meet demand. But there could be more: According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing schools turned away 92,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2021 because of budget constraints as well as a lack of faculty, classroom space and clinical sites.
Still, some states, including New York, saw a rise in registered nurses as a share of their population during the first year of the pandemic. An analysis of federal labor data by U.S. News and World Report showed that New York gained 12,500 registered nurses between 2020 and 2021, one of the largest such gains in the nation.
Lilia Espinoza, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital, said she realized that working conditions had deteriorated and weren’t likely to get better early last year as the first Omicron wave subsided. The medical-surgical nursing unit where she worked was often down a nurse, as the hospital would reassign nurses to other units that were even more understaffed.
On her floor, where many patients were recovering from surgery or had serious infections and other ailments, nurses that once had five patients to cover now regularly found themselves with first six and then seven.
“You might not be able to turn that patient every two hours and then that patient gets skin breakdown” — bed sores — “and you feel terrible,” said Ms. Espinoza, who became a nurse six years ago. “No nurse wants to go into a shift and know that today I’m not going to be able to do everything I need to do for my patients.”
In interviews, nurses spoke about the importance of bedside nursing — tasks such as talking to patients and explaining the care they are receiving, listening to their medical histories and frequently assessing their conditions — and how there was less of that than ever. “People aren’t getting nursing care anymore, they’re getting frantic nursing tasks,” Ms. Espinoza said.
The strike underscored a growing dynamic, according to Cheryl Peterson, a registered nurse and a vice president at the American Nurses Association: Though the majority of registered nurses still work in hospitals, a growing percentage are now employed by outpatient surgery centers or ambulatory care, reflecting the fact that more and more medical care is provided outside of hospitals.