Is There a Nursing Shortage in Florida? The Short Answer Is…Definitely

A nurse in Florida puts a face mask on while wearing gloves

Nursing shortages were an issue in many parts of the U.S. even before the pandemic. In fact, nursing shortages have been something of a worldwide problem in the last few decades.1

But more recent nursing shortages in America come from one of the largest generations aging past 65 (and needing more healthcare) while healthcare systems started experiencing alarming financial setbacks.2 Then, the pandemic. It would be a massive understatement to say the global pandemic was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

You probably already know about some of the pandemic fallout on the nursing industry. Maybe you’ve heard about under-staffed units and overbooked hospitals, or nurses who needed to stay away from their own families as they witnessed increases in fatalities. Those situations were stressful to say the least, and nurses stepped forward to save lives.

The stress of the pandemic also hit the working conditions nurses faced. Beyond the scramble for necessary medical equipment, there were documented increases in workplace violence directed at healthcare workers. Burnout from these stressful situations caught up with nurses, causing them to leave or change their roles and leading to an even deeper shortfall in the nursing industry.

In response, two years ago, the American Nurses Association (ANA) urged the US Department of Health to declare the nursing shortage a national crisis and create a staffing response team to help.

On the bright side, nursing is now in the spotlight of the nation in ways that could prove exciting for the industry. “Most healthcare organizations have learned that attracting and retaining nursing talent in the postpandemic era will require a more nuanced understanding of what nurses are looking for in a profession and an employer,” McKinsey & Company reports in their May 2023 article on how hospitals are responding to the nursing shortage.

Potential changes in licensing requirements, equitable compensation, working conditions, scope of practice options and more could make nursing a better profession to be in than ever before.3 No matter which way you look at it, this is a time of immense change for nursing as a whole.

Is there a nursing shortage in Florida?

With that backdrop in your mind, you can get a better picture of what’s happening in Florida’s healthcare landscape.

“We are experiencing a nursing shortage like the rest of the country, across the board,” says Barbara Jo Ratte, full-time nursing instructor at Rasmussen University’s North Orlando campus. “We are short on all types of nurses.”

On top of the same nursing shortage challenges the rest of the county has, in 2021 Florida also experienced the highest turnover rate of critical care nurses ever seen in the state, according to the Florida Hospital Association (FHA).4 The same report projected a truly devastating shortfall of nurses statewide by 2035, urging all sectors to ramp up their efforts to educate, attract and retain nurses.

Florida has many different areas to consider, and each area has its own flavor of shortage, Ratte explains. Some of the extremely rural areas of Florida might be lacking nursing care generally while also really needing nurse practitioners or nurses in specific specialties. Some of the most densely urban cities have healthcare systems competing for experienced nursing talent.

If the FHA projections prove true, Florida will be critically short on nurses by 2035, with very few areas where the supply of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) will be adequate to meet population needs.4

What is causing the nursing shortage in Florida?

The nursing shortage in Florida is partly due to all the nation-wide contributors above. But the sunshine state has a few added nuances that have exacerbated the issue.

A higher-than-average aging population

Florida, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a larger aging population than ever before. But as you might know, Florida is an especially popular retirement location for the baby boomer generation.

Florida has the second-largest overall population of residents over the age of 65 (just behind California, which is also experiencing a nursing shortage).

Pandemic-related turnover as well as increasing retirement

The same strains of pandemic burnout and corresponding turnover rates apply to Florida as well. But on top of that, many nurses are simply reaching retirement age. The Florida Center for Nursing reports that 40% of Florida’s nursing workforce in 2020 were baby boomers who will likely look toward retirement in the next five to ten years.5 As older nurses depart, Florida will have fewer nurses as well as fewer nurse educators, which limits the number of new and younger nurses who can train up.

The limitation of nursing clinical opportunities

Even if there are plenty of students who want to become nurses, there are limitations to enrollment. “Nursing schools can’t just get bigger,” Ratte says. Clinical experiences are a required part of nursing programs. “There are only so many clinical opportunities for nurses, and you can’t become a nurse without that essential hands-on experience.”

A clinical nursing placement requires working nurses who can also train nursing students as they complete their nursing rounds. “It’s a challenge across the country,” Ratte says. “Nurses on the floor are already taking on enough work, without adding students to teach as they go. It’s more work to have a student with you.”

In this way, Ratte explains, our existing nursing shortage makes solving the nursing shortage even harder. If there aren’t enough nurses for patients, there certainly aren’t enough nurses to both work and train in new nurses. In this way, the cycle kind of perpetuates itself.

Similar issues occur when it comes to nursing faculty. A nursing school can only expand its nursing education with more instructors. Those nurse educators are needed as well.

What is Florida doing to solve their nursing shortage?

There are so many different kinds of efforts happening in Florida right now, that this question is nearly impossible to sum up. From legislation to data analytics to preventative resources, Floridian leaders and healthcare providers are working to reduce the strain on nurses and bolster the nursing workforce.

Here are some specific efforts.

Addressing the clinical experience barrier

If nursing programs can secure more clinical opportunities for their students, they might be able to train more nurses. Ratte has a lot of hope in new programs and options for nursing clinicals to get nursing students that critical hands-on experience and even keep those nurses employed locally.

“We are seeing great nurse intern programs from employers here,” Ratte says. Hospital systems in the Orlando area have a student-nurse intern program to work with local nursing schools.

This arrangement is amazing for nursing students who get great experience as well as the chance to try out an employer. And the healthcare employers count on trying to retain these skilled nursing students when they graduate and gain licensure.

Incentivizing nurses with tuition reimbursement

“In Orlando, certain hospitals here are trying to outdo each other at getting the best nurses, so they’ll pay a little better and offer education reimbursement,” Ratte says. These arrangements mean that Florida hospitals will cover the cost of nursing education when a registered nurse graduates a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. “That’s a common incentive for entry-level nurses.”

This isn’t a unique practice to Florida. Ratte says almost all hospitals offer tuition reimbursement to help their ADN nurses earn a BSN.

Between healthcare employers and government funds, Floridian nursing students have a few different ways to seek support as they start nursing school. And nursing degree graduates who go on to successfully pass the NCLEX-RN® or NCLEX-PN® might be able to find plenty of employers who would be excited to help support their continued study in different nursing programs.

“A lot of nurses get an Associate’s degree, then become registered nurses,” Ratte says, adding that some of those nurses return to their education to earn a BSN degree as they continue in their careers, especially if their employer offers a tuition reimbursement arrangement.

Increasing access to mental health resources

Currently, for every 550 behavioral health patients in Florida, there’s one behavioral health provider.6 That ratio is one of the worst in the country. This has massive impacts on the healthcare industry as a whole—patients experiencing mental health disorders often wind up in emergency departments for lack of a behavioral health facility to help them.

And patients will also come to primary care clinics to seek help for mental health problems, increasing the stress on nurses who want to help their patients and might not have places to refer them.

On top of that, access to mental health resources also impacts nurses. The connection between nursing burnout and mental health is strong. Nurses need access to the right mental health resources for themselves and their loved ones to thrive in the profession.

Toward this, Florida legislation granted a non-recurring $126 million to the Department of Children & Families to expand community mental health services throughout the state in 2022.6

As part of this expansion, Florida needs RNs as well as nurse practitioners with a psychiatric-mental health specialization, according to the FHA. If Florida can successfully expand mental health care facilities, systems and telehealth options, it should reduce the strain on hospitals and healthcare staff. And it would also open up lots of location and practice options for nurses who want to work in centers dedicated to mental health and recovery.6

High hopes for the future of nursing in Florida

For nurses and prospective nurses, this is an exciting time. Changes are happening throughout the healthcare industry, as well as in legislation and other avenues to address the Florida nursing shortage. And the options for nursing roles are only growing.

If you’ve ever considered nursing as a potential career, you might wonder about what it’s really like to be a nurse in Florida. Check out Florida Nursing: 3 Great Reasons for Becoming a Nurse in the Sunshine State for some ideas.

NCLEX-PN is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.

NCLEX-RN is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.

Magnet is a registered trademark of American Nurses Credentialing Center

1Haryanto, Mickey (2019) Nursing Shortage, Myth or Fact? National Association of Orthopedic Nurses [accessed August 2023]

2American Hospital Association (2023) New AHA Report Finds Financial Challenges Mount for Hospitals & Health Systems Putting Access to Care at Risk [accessed August 2023]

3Zhavoronkova, Marina. How To Ease the Nursing Shortage in America (2023) The Center for American Progress [accessed August 2023]

4Florida Nurse Workforce (2021) Florida Hospital Association [accessed August 2023]

5Lackner, Catherine (2020) Florida faces potentially crippling nursing shortage, Miami Today News [accessed August 2023]

6Florida Hospital Association (2022) Community Mental Health Presentation [accessed August 2023]

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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