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With the nation already in a nursing shortage, a separate report released Wednesday by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Nursing Institute suggests even deeper problems down the road. According to Lynn Martin, who chaired the university's effort, the coming boom in the over-65 population will find America with not enough healthcare workers "to care for the people who will need it most."

Between 2010 and 2030, the report noted, the ratio of potential caregivers to the people most likely to need care will decrease by about 40%.

What's to be done to head off that crisis?

The nursing institute concluded that the U.S. needs a cultural shift, a "fundamental change in how nursing careers are perceived." It also called for better wages and benefits for nurses as well as a more desirable work environment.

Ginsburg tells WebMD, "As long as our economy is good and there are opportunities elsewhere, this problem is going to continue -- unless hospitals can redesign the job to make it an attractive job once again. Hospitals are going to have to reinvent their working environment. That's how hospitals are going to compete in the labor market."

Meanwhile, there are federal legislative efforts afoot to mandate that hospitals keep certain nurse-to-patient ratios and to prevent nurses from having to work mandatory overtime shifts.

But Clarke tells WebMD, "These things are only small pieces of the pie. Nursing is an occupation for which you can't train people quickly, and that doesn't seem to resonate with people making career choices now."

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