Georgia grapples with nation's second worst nursing shortage

A nationwide nursing shortage is hitting Georgia especially hard. Right now, there just aren’t enough nurses to go around. The state is expected to have the second-worst shortage in the nation over the next decade. Experts say low pay and high stress are causing more nurses to leave Georgia, even abandon the field altogether.

Andrea Castellano, a student at Emory University’s nursing school, has heard the stories of long hours and tough conditions for nurses, especially during the pandemic. "Just nurses realizing there wasn’t a safe environment for them to continue their profession," Castellano said. "Although there isn’t maybe the best support, there is always going to be a need for nurses in hospitals."

Georgia will need more students like Castellano who want to become nurses to make up for a big shortfall. "I realize that this is where I want to dedicate my time," Castellano said.

According to the federal Health Resources Service Administration, Georgia has more than 20% fewer registered nurses than it needs.

That is "pretty acute," said Chelsea Hagopian, an Assistant Clinical Professor at Emory School of Nursing and Executive Director of the Georgia Nursing Workforce Center. "We’re certainly feeling it."

Many nurses complain of low pay. "When looking at the difference between employed versus licensed RN’s when compared to other states, we do see a difference," Hagopian said.

Others point to burnout from the pandemic, some calling it quits. "We saw accelerated retirement," Hagopian said. "We saw nurses in their early career leaving the profession altogether."

The nursing shortage could grow far worse if that trend doesn’t improve. "We need to consider the context of faculty shortage. Nursing schools need faculty to be able to educate the next generation of nurses," Hagopian said.

Hagopian says the health care system needs to look at launching nurse-residency programs, improve work conditions and make nurses feel more valued overall.

The challenges don’t discourage Castellano. "Regardless of the shortage I still really want to consider this pathway," she said.