The Nursing Shortage: Is It Really About Image?


Andrew Alvarado, Kevin Grumbach, Dennis Keane, Jean Ann Seago, Joanne Spetz

Apr 2006

A poor public "image" of the nurse is believed to contribute to nurse shortages. We surveyed more than 3,000 college students in science and math courses in a seven-county region of California's Central Valley to assess their perceptions of a career as a nurse in relation to a career as a physical therapist, a high school teacher, or a physician. Students generally had favorable perceptions of nursing, with two-thirds agreeing that nursing has good income potential, job security, and interesting work. However, nursing lagged behind the other occupations in perceptions of independence at work and was more likely to be perceived as a "women's" occupation. Our findings suggest that these college students have generally gotten the message that nursing is a financially rewarding and desirable career, although they also perceive nursing to be less attractive on some important occupational characteristics such as job independence. Unless nursing training capacity expands substantially, the projected nurse shortage will occur. With continued aggressive marketing of nursing as a career, there is a risk of engendering a backlash from prospective students frustrated in their effort to find a slot in a nursing training program. Much work remains to be done to alter the image of nursing as a women's occupation and to transform the work environment of nurses to make a career in nursing more attractive.