We often hear it said that nurse practitioners and physician assistants need to be able to practice independently to make up for a supposed physician shortage. However, we rarely hear about another professional shortage that this country has: a shortage of bedside nurses.

Health policy experts note that there is a shortage of registered nurses across the nation and that 11 million nurses are needed to avoid a future shortage. A lack of nurses puts patients at risk, with a 2002 report by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations noting that “inadequate nurse staffing has been a factor in 24 percent of the 1,609 cases involving patient death, injury or permanent loss of function reported since 1997.”

One of the reasons for the physician shortage is the growth of the nurse practitioner model. It is estimated that the transition of nurses to nurse practitioners has reduced the number of practicing registered nurses by 80,000 nationwide, without a clear plan to replace those positions. While organizations such as the Institute of Medicine have called for nurses to expand their education to become advanced practice nurses, little emphasis has been placed on how these bedside nurses who go on to become nurse practitioners will be replaced.

The COVID19 pandemic has created a particular urgency for more nurses. In fact, so much so that Adventist Healthcare recently posted a call for physicians to be trained to act as nurses. We are joined again today by Dr. Natalie Newman, a California emergency medicine physician, patient advocate, and blogger to discuss the bedside nurse shortage, and the unimaginable call for physicians to work as nurses.