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The nursing shortage is not only about shortage in numbers or about the drain of nurses from developing to more developed countries. It is also a shortage that will have more far-reaching implications for the future by undermining the knowledge base and the science of nursing. Nurse scientists are already in short supply and, like the rest of the profession, the current body of nurse researchers is an ageing population and its regeneration is continuously required. Therefore, ‘the nursing shortage’ is also about a shortage of nurse scientists who are developing the science that is essential for improving the quality of care; who translate knowledge to guide practice; and who ensure that science effects policy changes that can transform nursing care. It is not only more nurses that are needed, but also more science in our ongoing pursuit to achieve cost-effective, high quality nursing care.

Publicity of the nursing shortage has thrust the profession of nursing into global consciousness. This is a welcome visibility for a profession that is vital for patient care, and one that is valued by those who receive care from nurses, even if not always valued properly by those who finance and manage health services. Nurses must seize this new visibility in society to advance the mission and goals of nursing, but this cannot be achieved without evidence and science. If we focus only on numbers of nurses, educational pathways, and recruitment and retention of students and staff, we miss an important opportunity to make visible the science of nursing as well. We would be – we are – turning inward again, withdrawing into ourselves as a profession under pressure and not addressing a fundamental aspect of our mission: advancing nursing science to provide quality nursing care. We are conveying a public message, indeed a global one, that it is numbers alone that are in shortage.

In doing this, we are missing a unique opportunity to let the public and the policy makers know that a shortage of nurses also means a shortage of nurse scientists who produce the science which, in turn, produces evidence-based nursing care. This is the time to make it known to all constituencies – the public, politicians, and other disciplines – that best practices in nursing are developed through rigorous research conducted by nurse scientists and delivered by nurses who are well-educated in utilizing scientific evidence in practice. A preoccupation only with the goal of increasing numbers of nurses drives short-term solutions, such as decreasing the number of years of education and creating new types of assistants, such measures not necessarily paving the way for a sustainable nursing workforce for the longer-term future.

So, let's speak out about the shortage of nurse scientists and our dire need for the recruitment of the future researchers and scholars in nursing who will develop and translate the best models of care that prevent illness, promote recovery and enhance the well-being of families and communities. The message is simple: nurse scientists are needed if the nursing profession is to be properly equipped to provide quality nursing care to patients, to prevent infections, to decrease ‘failure-to-rescue’ incidents, to eliminate error, to enhance self-care, to decrease risky behaviours, to enhance well-being of populations, and to produce the best outcomes for all patients in every sphere of health care.

If we were to highlight the shortage of nurse scientists, and not just the shortage of nurses, then perhaps we can attract more men and women of the best minds into nursing. Perhaps we can convince them that a career in nursing holds many options and challenges; perhaps we can attract more funding for nursing research; perhaps we can increase the support for training nurses in research and research utilization; and perhaps we can disempower those gatekeepers who think that science, research and scholarship are neither within the domain nor the mission of nursing. Changing the image of nursing from being merely a mundane and common-sense caring profession, to one that is committed to evidence-based practice, can happen and particularly if we take advantage of the times – as now – when the public is really listening and the legislators and policy makers are watching closely.

There is now a vested interest to look at nurses and nursing differently. We must tell the public about the growing shortage of nurse scientists. We owe it to the public to build the human capacity that will develop the scientific capacity and so bring about the reality of nursing as an evidence-based profession. and we owe it to the public to give due warning that ‘the nursing shortage’ translates to a shortage of scientists, which in turn, will translate into nursing care that is not based on strong and up-to-date scientific evidence.