The decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to deem 2020 the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” highlights the global nursing shortage. It is estimated that the world needs 9 million more nurses and midwives to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.
The United States is also facing a physician shortage. A recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects that the U.S. will face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033. This represents a spike compared to 2019’s figures (which predicted a deficit of up to 121,900), and one the AAMC attributes partly to the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on frontline workers.
The Age Factor
While multifactorial components cause the shortages, two key reasons have to do with age:
Growing Baby Boomer Populations
The growing number of individuals over the age of 65 equates to high demand for more specialized care. Michael Dill, the AAMC’s director of workforce studies, said, “caring for an 85-year-old is, as a general rule, more complicated than caring for a 25-year-old.”
How significant is the population growth? According to the AAMC’s report, the national population is projected to expand by 10.4 percent during the 15 years covered by the study, but population of those over 65 years old is expected to grow by 45.1 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau states that by 2030, all Baby Boomers will be over 65, making it so that one in five residents will be retirement age.
Additionally, fewer healthcare professionals from this generation are remaining in the workforce. The AAMC’s study found that more than two of five active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade and observes that “growing concerns about physician burnout…suggest physicians will be more likely to accelerate than delay retirement.” According to a report by International Nurse Migration.org that supports WHO research, “one in six (17%) of nurses around the world are aged 55 years or over, and expected to retire within the next 10 years.”
With fewer healthcare professionals available to care for a growing gerontological sect, the demands for care will go unmet unless younger professionals start to enter the workforce.
AGNPs: Filling the Void
Nurses within a particular specialty of healthcare can significantly impact this supply-demand disparity: adult gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNP). These specialized nurse practitioners are trained to care for patients from adolescence through adult ages and into geriatrics. However, becoming an AGNP is not as arduous as one may think. You can complete a Master of Science in Nursing – Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner degree online in as few as 18 months.
Defined by Johnson & Johnson as “multi-disciplined primary healthcare providers who help patients manage the physical, mental, and social effects of aging,” AGNPs are authorized to prescribe medications, order and analyze diagnostic tests as well as develop and implement comprehensive treatment plans for their patients. They also work in a broad range of settings, from hospitals and clinics to nursing homes and even patients’ homes.
With the impending shortage of care looming, AGNPs have several opportunities to build a career within adult gerontology. Here are a few more demographic reasons for the growing need for AGNPs within this specialty area.
Reduction of “Traditional” Family Caregivers
Worldwide, many countries still honor the traditional, familial responsibility to care for elders. While that is also true to a degree in the U.S., specific trends are preventing this support.
Emily M. Agree of Johns Hopkins University states, “spouses and adult children provide most of the care that enables older people to live independently and avoid costly nursing homes. But declines in marriage, increases in divorce, and lower fertility mean that more baby boomers will reach age 65 without a spouse or adult child to rely on for care.”
She also indicates that divorce and remarriage rates over the past few decades have led to “less contact, less support, and poorer quality relationships” among parents and adult children.
Increase in Older Americans Living with Disabilities
It’s a trend seen from generation to generation: the likelihood of disability simply increases with age. A National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) shows that more than 20 percent of adults aged 65 to 69 have physical limitations, poor vision, poor hearing or probable dementia. The same report reveals more than 80 percent experience diminished capacity by age 90.
An additional factor, per Vicki Freedman of the University of Michigan, is the surge in diminished capacity due to lifestyle. “As a group, the [Baby Boomer] generation is better educated than previous generations but has higher rates of obesity and mobility-related impairments,” she notes.
Individuals in the 65-plus population also increasingly require assistive devices for daily activities (e.g., canes, walkers and grab bars). However, education surrounding proper use of these devices and modifying one’s environment — something AGNPs provide — allow individuals to maintain independence longer.
More Concentrated Geriatric Populations
According to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an increasing number of U.S. counties are at least half-comprised of people aged 50 or older. Kathleen Cagney of the University of Chicago and Erin York Cornwell of Cornell University explain this concentration is mostly focused in rural areas, where the populations age faster than in urban areas. Older people in rural areas experience reduced access to healthcare, fewer healthcare services or are forced to travel long distances to obtain care.
This represents a great opportunity for AGNPs to fill community needs — perhaps even open their own practices — all while serving these communities’ needs.
What Are You Waiting For?
The evidence is clear: more AGNPs are needed to fill an increasing void in adult and geriatric care. If you are a nurse looking to expand your career, there is no better time to look into this specialty.