Wisconsin’s nursing shortage is getting worse. Here’s how lawmakers can fix it.

Credit: Nurse Journal

By Christina Lorey

December 13, 2023

JoAnn Shaw decided she wanted to be a nurse when she was 5. She was in the hospital after getting hit by a car.

“The nurse taking care of me was so nice,” she remembered. Shaw followed through on that dream and became the nurse she looked up to. But after 50 years of committing her entire professional life to caring for others as a full-time nurse, the stress, long hours, and low morale became too much even for Shaw and she retired earlier than she planned.

I felt I still had maybe another year or two, because I loved caring for people, especially the elderly,” she said. “But I couldn’t continue and keep my mental and physical health in good status.”

And she’s not alone…

The Numbers: During the pandemic, 29% of all nurses in the US said they were unhappy with their job. In Wisconsin, COVID exacerbated the pre-existing nursing shortage. According to the 2022 Wisconsin Hospital Association report, in 2016, 6% of registered nurse positions and 9% of certified nursing assistant positions were open. Last year, those numbers jumped to 11% and 17%, respectively. At that rate, the state is projected to be short almost 20,000 registered nurses by 2035.

“It wasn’t just COVID,” Shaw explained. “Nursing shortages started impacting care back in 2015, slowly at first. This impacts the kind of care patients are getting. You need two people to use lifts on patients. We’re responsible for cleaning, feeding, giving medications to, and caring for dozens of people. And yet they keep cutting staff.”

What Lawmakers Can Do: Although retired from full-time nursing, Shaw continues to serve as president of the Wisconsin Association of Licensed Practical Nurses. In that role, she’s asking lawmakers for help–specifically, more funding so staff doesn’t have to be cut.

Lawmakers pass the laws,” Shaw said. “We understand that. But they need to listen to doctors and nurses who are working in health care.”

She says adding more funding for BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s health care program for low-income children, pregnant women, and adults, is a start.

What You Can Do: Click here to contact your representative and let them know you want them to address Wisconsin’s nursing crisis.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.



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