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A Nursing Crisis Fact Sheet

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 7th, 2008

by LeAnn Thieman

Most nurses didn’t choose their career because of the great hours, pay, and working conditions! They were called by a need to serve – to give of their hearts and hands, compassionate and thorough patient care. But these values are threatened today with the changes in the delivery of health care.


  • Over 126,000 nursing positions are unfilled in hospitals. Nurse shortages are even more acute in long-term care facilities and home-health care agencies.
  • By 2015, it is estimated the U.S.A. will be short 500,000 nurses.
  • By 2020, 65% of the population will be 65 or older. It is predicted we will lack 700,000 nurses to care for them.
  • The need for healthcare workers will triple by 2050.
  • The average age of the nurse today is 46.
  • Of the 2.7 million RNs in this country, 83% are employed in nursing
  • 30% of nurses under the age of 30 plan to leave their jobs within the next year.
  • 41% of nurses are dissatisfied with their current jobs, mostly due to poor staffing ratios.
  • Surveys prove nurses would prefer more help to more pay
  • Hospitals offer free sign-on bonuses from $5,000 to $15,000 to a new Volkswagen Beetle!
  • Thousands of hospital deaths every year can be blamed on a nationwide nurse shortage, according to JCAH (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.) Nursing staffing issues account for 50% of ventilator-related deaths, 42% of surgery-related deaths, 25% of transfusion errors, 19% of medicine errors, 14% of patient falls, and 14% of patient suicides.
  • For every patient over four that a nurse has to care for, patients face a 7% greater risk of dying.
  • Nationwide there is one school nurse for every 3521 students. Meanwhile, the incident of asthma and juvenile diabetes continue to climb.


  • Nursing shortages are plaguing most cities, large and small, not only in the USA, but worldwide.
  • Hospital units, and some entire hospitals, are closing, not for lack of rooms, but lack of nurses.An affluent colleague of mine grew deathly ill on a Saturday. She overheard her physician begging the hospital for a bed. “We have beds, just no nurses,” was the reply. She was denied admittance and her physician called 2 more hospitals before he got a room- -and care- – for her.
  • Emergency rooms throughout the country are often on “divert-status” daily, refusing to accept the patient in the ambulance due to lack of personnel in the ER. Paramedics frantically call the closest hospital and are told they cannot transport the critically ill patient there. One Denver paramedic called seven hospitals one night as the patient in the ambulance suffered an increasingly severe heart attack, “Hold on,” he says to the middle -aged man, “hold on…”
  • Hospitals are forcing mandatory overtime to meet the patient-care loads. Nurses feel exhausted, overworked, and under-appreciated. “I’ll work my fingers to the bone and ’til there are holes in my shoes and I won’t complain- – as long as I can go home at the end of the shift and say ‘I gave the best care possible.” But I work that hard and go home feeling sad and defeated and wishing I could have done more…”
  • This shortage is a worldwide problem. Hospitals are recruiting nurses from foreign countries. While these incentives serve to fill our need, it leaves destitute countries with even fewer nurses.
  • Nursing work is hard! Due to changes in health care, hospital stays are much shorter. There are fewer “easier” patients to care for. Hospitals are becoming ICU units, nursing homes are becoming hospitals, and homes are becoming nursing homes.


  • Historically, nursing has been “women’s work” and now women have countless career options. Only 5% of nurses are men.
  • Overwork and inability to minister to patients’ physical, mental and emotional needs is causing tremendous burnout, so nurses are quitting.
  • While there are waiting lists for some nursing schools, many have too few instructors to educate more students.
  • National Registered Nurse (RN) organizations have pushed for Baccalaureate entry level into the field. While this has been one way of advancing the career of one level of nurses, it has the side effect of diverting precious resources to that one goal and away from patient care advocacy.

Hopeful Trends:

  • According to a 2002-2003 survey of RN Nursing Programs conducted by the National League for Nursing (NLN), there has been a recent surge in the number of enrollments and graduations in RN nursing programs.
  • Graduations appear to have increased 6% over the prior year, and if all graduates pass their licensure exams, approximately 75,000 new RN nurses will be able to join the workforce.

“Why Should I Care?”

  • Increased errors occur in any profession when the worker is over-fatigued.
  • “Who’s taking care of Mama?” Nurses want more than anything to anticipate and meet every patient need promptly, but staff shortages often don’t allow them to do so. A friend of mine complained that her daughter lay 3 days in the ICU after a car crash, with dried blood and shreds of glass in her hair. Believe me, her nurses wanted more than anything to wash her hair, hold her hand, and minister to the family. But they have to make choices- – wash her hair, or monitor the heart-pump on the man in the next room.
  • The “baby boomers” will put an increased demand on the health care system in the next 10 years, and we don’t have enough nurses to meet the current needs.
  • To meet the immediate, sometimes life-threatening patient-care needs, hospitals are hiring Nursing Assistants/Aides. The level of training of these well-intentioned individuals is inconsistent at best. Another friend had a fractured vertebrae and called the nurse to be turned to her side. A Nurses Aide came in and began to turn her. My friend reminded her that the doctor ordered her to be “log-rolled” to prevent spinal injury. The Aide didn’t know the procedure and went to get help– another Nurses Aide who didn’t know it either. These aides want to do it right, but often aren’t adequately trained.

Solutions: ( So Glad You Asked ! )

  • While Baccalaureate entry level into the profession is ideal, it’s idealistic. Not every bedside-care need must be filled by a Registered Nurse (RN).
  • Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses (LPN or LVN) must be fully utilized. These nurses are trained specifically (usually for one year) to provide excellent bedside care. They often study from the same texts as Registered Nurses and take state-board exams to be licensed. Just as EMTs and Paramedics are trained for their specific area of expertise, so are LPNs in theirs. There is no empirical evidence that shows more education in non-nursing subjects guarantees better care. “I can’t afford the time or the money to go to college to be a nurse, yet I want more than anything to care for patients. First I’ll be an LPN, then, hopefully, I can go on to school and be an RN someday – but for today, let me be a nurse – let me care for your Mama …”
  • There needs to be standardized training for Nursing Assistants/Aides and certification programs testifying to their training and abilities. Many Nurse Aides go on to become LPNs and many LPNs go on to be RNs. We need education of a full-spectrum work force to meet the full spectrum of patient needs.
  • Efforts and funding must be increased to promote nursing as a career option for Middle School and High School students, as well as non-traditional students of all ages.

So what does this have to do with Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul?

These stories encourage men and women of all ages and walks of life to choose nursing as a vocation to serve others. Stories from students help nurses recall why they entered this profession in the first place. Stories from seasoned nurses reveal why we stay. Some stories reflect on the “good old days” (many of which didn’t seem all that good at the time!) But all of them give us hope for the future. When her feet hurt and his heart aches, the nurse will pick up Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul and be inspired to ‘keep on keeping on!’

Operation Babylift, published in Newsweek

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 7th, 2008

Newsweek articleNewsweek article, March 8, 1999 p.67

SAIGON, APRIL 1975: As the city fell, President Ford ordered an airlift of all orphans, many of whom had American fathers. LeAnn Thieman, an Iowa nurse, volunteered to help.

Our adoption agency kept 100 infants in a two-story French villa. Every inch of floor was covered with sheets and mats – it was a sea of babies, crying and cooing in 100-degree heat. There was a strong smell of spit-up and diarrhea. The Vietnamese orphanage workers were weeping. For the airlift, they dressed the babies in clothes from America: lace, panties with ruffles, patent-leather shoes. Instead of diapers or rags, the orphans would go to their new homes in party clothes.

Newsweek articleThree of us took half of the 100 babies on the first run to the airport, first by Volkswagen van, then by city bus. We put three or four babies on a seat. As the bus started to roll, so did the babies, so we all stretched out, spread-eagled in the aisle. At the airport, a Vietnamese guard told us our flight had been canceled. The babies were wet from crying and sweating. Many were losing bodily fluids. It was a crisis. We were there a couple of hours, feeding and cleaning the babies, when we got clearance to fly.

Our plane was a C-5A cargo jet, the big one you can drive a truck inside. The U.S. government had gutted it and strapped down 22 cardboard boxes end to end down the center. We put two or three babies to a box. There were nine of us to care for 100 babies. We took our seats for takeoff and the true terror began: Would we be shot down? Would we even get off the ground? There was an eerie silence, as if even the babies knew the risk. Then nothing but the roar of the engine.

Finally the captain announced, “We’re out of range of the Viet Cong.” There were whoops and hollers and tears. The babies started fussing again. So it was back to work, but it was joyful work. The babies were going to their homes, to freedom.

LeAnn Meets President Ford

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 6th, 2008

President Ford on the lawnIn 1975 LeAnn was greeted in Vietnam with, “Have you heard the news? President Ford has okayed Operation Babylift!” In 2000, LeAnn was greeted by President Ford himself. When he heard she was speaking in his summer hometown, he asked to meet her.

A hug from President FordDuring their visit he said, “The fall of Saigon was the saddest day of my life.” As they talked, LeAnn shared with him details of one of the few good things to come from the Vietnam tragedy – the rescue of 3000 children. She gave him a copy of her book, This Must be My Brother, telling the story of Operation Babylift and how in the midst of the chaos, a baby boy crawled into her arms and heart.

The President smiled to receive a photo of her grown son, Mitch, and another photo of a 25th Operation Babylift reunion. President Ford introduced LeAnn at the Vail conference, then stayed for her keynote address. During their time together, LeAnn shared with him the joy his courageous decision brought, not only to the adoptive families, but to this nation.

Click below to play President Ford’s message

25th Babylift Anniversary Reunites LeAnn, Mitch and Babylift Team

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 6th, 2008

25th Babylift Anniversary
Pictured above are (left to right) Thuy, Sister Therese, Mitch, Ross, Cherie, Carol and LeAnn.
25th Babylift Anniversary
April 2000, LeAnn attended another 25th anniversary reunion of Operation Babylift. This photo was taken at the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.

The 25th anniversary reunion of Operation Babylift held in Estes Park, Colorado in the summer of 2000, reunited volunteers, adoptees, and adoptive families. Among those reunited for the first time since 1975 were the principle characters in LeAnn’s book, This Must Be My Brother.

Nurses Can Help to End the Nursing Shortage in America

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, June 1st, 2008

Every man, woman, and child may at some time be affected by the nursing shortage, which is expected to exceed 340,000 within the next twelve years. With the average age of a nurse being forty seven, 55% of the current nurse workforce is planning to retire by 2020.

The implications of such a nursing shortage compromising patient care and threatening the quality of care are clear. It is also clear that the lack of qualified instructors to teach in nursing programs will continue to stall and possibly diminish the availability of nursing education and training programs well into the future.

Recruitment and retention expert LeAnn Thieman, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, Second Dose, insists that nurses themselves can help reverse that shortage. “If each of the 2 1/2 million nurses in our country recruits or helps retain just one nurse, we’ll have plenty of nurses and maintain optimal patient care,” Thieman claims. As she releases her Each One Reach One Nurse campaign, she offers these 10 tips for nurses to help end the shortage:

  1. Advocate nursing as a great career
  2. Advise middle and high schoolers to join
  3. Encourage nurses to be instructors
  4. Help a tired nurse stay in
  5. Recommend nursing as a career change
  6. Recruit and welcome non-practicing nurses back to nursing
  7. Encourage nursing assistants to get nursing degrees
  8. Mentor and support new nurses
  9. Take care of yourself and model that to others
  10. Exude pride and role model nursing excellence

“Nurses are the best recruiters,” Thieman states. “They need to tell the world about the great career that they love, one with flexible hours, good pay, and the privilege of serving others. We need to show pride and enthusiasm over our profession,” Thieman continues. “That’s the first step toward convincing others that nursing is a very good place to be and that they should join us.”

Solution for Nursing Shortage? Two Nurses Think They Can Help

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, May 2nd, 2008

National Nurse’s Week (May 6-12) is nearing and headlines warn of the current nursing shortage — more than 125,000 nurses are needed now. By 2015, it is estimated the U.S.A. will be short 500,000 nurses. By 2020, 65% of the population will be 65 or older and it is predicted we will lack 700,000 nurses to care for them. The average age of a nurse today is 47 years and as they retire, the shortage is expected to grow, raising concerns for the future of health care for all Americans.

But, two nurses LeAnn Thieman, LPN and her comrade Nancy Autio, RN, believe they can help ease the shrinking number of nurses. How? By tapping into something that’s found inside every nurse — his or her story. A story that can rekindle the spirit of a tired nurse or recruit new students.

“Nurse’s give a lot. They’re over-worked and overwhelmed. They need inspiration more than ever and stories written by fellow nurses inspire them to remain committed to the profession and encourage others to join the ranks,” claims Thieman, a nurse for over 30 years and co-author of the New York Times best-selling Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul. “We need more caring people to enter the field and if an individual wants to make a difference in the world, then nursing is how they truly can.

“Most nurses didn’t choose this career for the hours or pay and these stories remind them why they did,” says Thieman. “It isn’t just about the skill or technology, it’s about the heart, the compassion, the call to serving that sets a nurse apart.”

Thieman, a nationally recognized speaker on life balance and nursing issues, noted that nursing school graduates are down sharply and part of that reason can be attributed to the many career opportunities that young men and women have to choose from today. She said, “Today nursing is very much a high-tech, yet high-touch profession and we must mentor and encourage others to consider the benefits and satisfaction that come from choosing a career dedicated to helping others.” When asked, what the public can do to help ease the shortage situation? Thieman responded, “Encourage men and women, young and old to enter the healthcare profession. And thank a nurse today… you just might keep a tired soul from quitting and ensure there will be enough nurses there for you and your family when you need one!”

Two Ways Every Person Can Help Ease the Nursing Shortage!

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, May 1st, 2008

National Nurse’s Week kicks off in May and once again shortage issues will make the headlines. All citizens should take pause to see how they might help improve the situation. People should be concerned for the welfare of their families, and themselves. Our nation is short 126,000 nurses today and by the year 2015 the shortage, a world-wide crisis, is expected to reach 500,000. One Colorado nurse believes there is something that every one of us can do to help. LeAnn Thieman, LPN, suggests two simple things that could start a wave to improve the situation for the future.

1. Thank a nurse today. For doing what they do everyday – which is to show care and compassion and mix it with science. “Nurse’s give a lot,” Thieman says. “With cutbacks in healthcare today, nurses are expected to do more with less. They’re tired, over worked and overwhelmed. They need to feel appreciated. A kind word or gesture may keep a nurse from quitting.”

2. Encourage young and old, men and women to enter the healthcare profession. It’s not just a career for women. “We all see unique qualities in our youth and we should help steer them to investigate healthcare options,” claims Thieman, a nurse for over 30 years and co-author of the New York Times best-selling Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul. “We need more caring people to enter the field and, if an individual wants to make a difference in the world, then nursing is where they truly can. It’s exciting, rewarding and offers lots of challenges and opportunities,” says Thieman. “Most nurses don’t choose this career for the hours or pay. And it isn’t just about the skill or technology; it’s about the heart, the compassion, the call to service that sets a nurse apart. So, thank the ‘old’ nurses and encourage the ‘new.’ You just might keep a tired soul from quitting and ensure there will be enough nurses to care for you and your family when you need one!”