Nurse Workforce Growing Fast; Younger Nurses Joining Ranks

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BETHESDA, Md.―The number of young people entering the nursing profession is surging, providing relief from the recent nursing shortage, according to an article in December's Health Affairs. Aggressive efforts to make nursing a more attractive career choice have helped spur a 62 percent increase in the number of younger nurses (ages 23–26) entering the field between 2002 and 2009. As a result, rather than declining as previously projected, the registered nurse workforce is now expected to grow at roughly the same rate as the population through 2030. 

“This is a very welcome and surprising development,” said lead author David Auerbach, a health economist at RAND Health. “Instead of worrying about a decline, we are now growing the supply of nurses.” Auerbach and his colleagues say the trend of many more young people entering the field of nursing isn’t guaranteed to persist, but it will have to continue if the United States is to have an adequate nursing supply in the future.

In addition, a separate study reported in December's Health Affairs, by Christine Kovner of New York University and colleagues at that institution and the State University of New York, examined the low “mobility” of  new RNs after they complete their training. A survey of newly licensed RNs in fifteen states found that more than half (52.5 percent) work within 40 miles of where they attended high school. The results raise concerns about maintaining an adequate distribution of nurses around the country.

Surge in New RNs

In their study, Auerbach—along with coauthors Peter Buerhaus of Vanderbilt University and Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth—investigated recent employment trends in the number and age of RNs. They drew on more than thirty-five years of annual survey data from two Census Bureau surveys, the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. The use of data from the second survey provided a broader picture because it offers researchers large samples of RNs, enables them to analyze trends in the number of young RNs, and permits projections in the future age and supply of RNs per capita through 2030. 

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