The media is full of statistics that warn of the looming global crisis of the aging nursing workforce. We know that:

  • The average age of a nurse is now 47 years old.
  • 55 percent of the RN workforce is age 50 or older.
  • 55 percent of nurses are prepared at the baccalaureate or graduate level.

When we discuss the impending shortage of qualified nurses, we contemplate the effect this shortage will have on direct patient care and staffing. Lost in the discussion, however, is the fact that 75 percent of nurse leaders — the baby boomers will retire by the year 2020. Who will be prepared to take their places?

Nurse leaders are responsible for planning, organizing, staffing, influencing and effectively controlling all of the resources within a healthcare organization. Organizational resources include people, time, money, technology and information. This is a tall order for nurses with little previous management experience to fill without support and mentoring from more seasoned leaders within the healthcare organization, coupled with an advanced education in business, finance and leadership.

Nurses thrive in rapidly shifting environments and have access to knowledge and expertise gained through bedside experience and patient interactions. With the exodus of seasoned leaders, we need to recognize there will be a loss of knowledge and clinical expertise as well.

Lost nursing knowledge translates into increased errors and loss of organizational efficiency, and it may lead to a decline in the quality of patient care. Nursing as a profession needs a succession plan to fill these potential gaps in patient safety. We need to have well-educated, clinically seasoned nurses prepared to answer the call and to advance healthcare.

The nurse leader is a crucial element in a healthcare organization's ability to ensure the provision of safe, timely, effective, efficient and patient-centered care. A prepared nurse with a master's degree and a concentration in nursing leadership will gain the knowledge and skills required to effectively manage and lead other nurses in both clinical and administrative areas.

Nurses at the master's level have the requisite clinical experience to assess, plan, implement and evaluate care processes that are effective in achieving the goals of nurse-patient interactions and of the healthcare system. We are in the midst of a call for new methodologies to deliver healthcare to the masses. We need nurses to step up and answer that call.

As current nurse leaders retire, we need prepared, qualified nurses to fill several voids:

  • Nurse managers and directors within acute, long-term, veteran's and mental healthcare facilities
  • Nurse managers and directors of community and government health agencies
  • Advanced practice nurses to open and manage post-discharge, pain management and other specialty clinics to create more opportunities to enhance primary care within the communities

The time has come for nurses to prepare for the impending future and begin planning for seamless transition into leadership positions within the nursing profession. The time to focus on succession planning, mentoring future leaders and skill acquisition is now.