An aging population, along with an older field of nurses, have paved the way for what could be the most severe nursing shortagein New Jersey history.

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Citing data gathered from the state, the New Jersey State Nurses Association  concluded that 37 percent of Garden State nurses are between the ages of 57 and 65.

"They're going to reduce their hours. They're going to retire," said Dr. Richard Ridge, CEO of NJSA. "We're on the precipice of unprecedented change."

Ridge indicated the vacancies will pile up over the next eight years. The weak economy has played a strong role in the situation recently, as more workers are willing to take on extra hours and help fill the gaps. However, that is having a negative effect on the many recent graduates who are struggling to find work.

With millions of people entering the realm of Medicare nationwide, meanwhile, and an even greater number of people signing up for health care through the Affordable Care Act, the demand for nurses is even greater.

According to Ridge, an increasing number of people are interested in pursuing a career in nursing, which would help alleviate the problem, but there is a "bottleneck" because of a lack of faculty.

"There are some schools - many schools - that have a hard time filling their slots, recruiting students, because they don't have enough faculty," Ridge said.

Ridge noted the salary discrepancy is a major factor. Nurses know they can earn much more in the field, compared to teaching.

On the bright side, the state has made strides toward increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses. Meanwhile, a bill in Trenton would eliminate the requirement that advanced practice nurses be involved in a joint protocol with a physician.

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