Measuring Shortages of Hospital Nurses: How Do You Know a Hospital With a Nursing Shortage When You See One?


Kevin Grumbach, Michael Ash, Jean Ann Seago, Joanne Spetz, Janet M. Coffman

December 1, 2001

Lack of clarity in definitions of shortages of hospital registered nurses may cause problems for effective policy making, particularly if different measures for identifying a nurse shortage lead to different conclusions about which hospitals and regions are experiencing a shortage. The authors compared different methods of identifying hospitals and regions with a shortage of registered nurses, including both relatively subjective measures (e.g., a hospital administrator’s report of a nurse shortage) and more objective measures (e.g., number of registered nurses per inpatient year). Associations were strongest between self-reported shortage status and nursing vacancy rates and weaker for self-reported shortage status and registered nurses per inpatient year and overall regional supply of nurses. Different definitions of nursing shortage are not equally reliable in discriminating between hospitals and regions with and without nursing shortages. When faced with reports sounding an alarm about a hospital nursing shortage, policy makers should carefully consider the definition of shortage being used.

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