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This content is taken from the Coventry University's online course, Nursing in Crisis? Exploring Current Challenges. Join the course to learn more.
A crowded waiting room full of patients.
A waiting room full of patients.

How big is the problem?

In this section we examine the global shortage of nurses in more detail and its consequences at a personal, local and international level. You will also carry out a peer review activity in which you produce a strategy for addressing this deficit, receive feedback on your ideas and give feedback to others about theirs.

The global shortage of nurses is difficult to enumerate with any accuracy. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a global shortage of healthcare workers of 7.2 million; the organisation estimated that this shortage would increase to 12.9 million by 2035 (WHO 2013).

Nurse-to-population ratios are often used to undertake international comparisons, though even these must be interpreted with caution and a number of variables taken into account.

Consider, for example, that some countries limit the number of nurses who may be employed through restricting the resources available to healthcare providers, while others have a deliberate policy to over-produce nurses with the explicit aim of ‘exporting’ them to more wealthy countries – linking the shortage to both the economy and politics.

The International Council of Nurses suggests that the world has entered a critical period for health-related human resources, the shortage of nurses posing a significant challenge locally, nationally and globally to maintaining and improving health (Buchan and Calman 2006).

During the course we have begun to see that global shortages in nursing are a result of many interrelated factors. This makes it hard to identify a root cause.

You will have a chance to explore the relationship between these factors in more detail in a later step, but for the moment let’s briefly capture what we already know and apply it to your personal context.

Your task

Has the nursing shortage impacted you directly as a nurse? If so, how do you think migration, violence, stress and professional image contribute to shortages of nursing staff in your locality?


Buchan, J., and Calman, L. (2006) ‘The Global Shortage of Registered Nurses: An Overview of Issues and Actions’. International Council of Nurses [online] available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17071693 [19 June 2019]

World Health Organization. (2013) Global Health Workforce Shortage to Reach 12.9 million in Coming Decades [online] available from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/health-workforce-shortage/en/ [20 October 2017]

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This article is from the free online course:

Nursing in Crisis? Exploring Current Challenges

Coventry University