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and Utah is no exception there is a critical shortage of registered nurses. The simple solution seems to be to pay them more money. But the reasons for the shortage, and the way hospitals are trying to cope with it, make the answers more complicated.

First of all, there are a couple of misconceptions about the shortage. While some nurses certainly leave the field for better paying jobs elsewhere, there has not been a mass exodus from nursing.Studies show that while hospitals have a heavy turnover in nursing staff about 20 percent a year most who leave one hospital end up working at another. Most nurses would prefer working outside of hospitals in other health care jobs because the hours are better, but those jobs are limited.

The shortage actually has been due to a significant increase in the demand for nurses. Hospitals want more nurses because they are cost-effective.

The National League for Nursing says that hospitals while trying to cut costs have reduced their non-clinical support staffs and have hired more nurses. They require little supervision and can usually handle a variety of hospital duties along with their regular work.

In spite of this situation and the resulting shortages, wages have not risen dramatically. The market is limited to a certain extent because there are only so many hospitals. Those hospitals are trying to cut costs, so they keep a tight lid on nursing wages.

In addition, hospitals pay premiums for part-time work or unpopular shifts so as to get additional labor without raising wages generally. The result has been that instead of encouraging more part-time nurses to work full-time, many hospitals seem to be encouraging more nurses to work part-time.

To add to these problems, there are two disturbing trends.

First, enrollment in nursing schools is declining in some areas. Nursing is losing its appeal. Second, an aging American population is going to require more nursing care in the coming decades. By the year 2000, there will be 1.75 million full-time equivalent nurses. But there will be a need for 2.3 million.

One answer is to stop using nurses for non-nursing duties. This would ease demand somewhat. The second, and even more important, is to upgrade nursing pay, hours, and status so that it will attract more people into the crucial profession.