Registered Nurse Supply Grows Faster Than Projected Amid Surge in New Entrants Ages 23-26

Published in: Health Affairs, v. 30, no. 12, Dec. 2011, p. 2286-2292

Posted on on December 01, 2011

by David I. Auerbach, Peter Buerhaus, Douglas Staiger

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Research Questions

  1. What is the latest trend in the nursing workforce in the United States?
  2. What does this mean for U.S. nursing staff needs?

The vast preponderance of the nation's registered nurses are women. In the 1980s and 1990s, a decline in the number of women ages 23-26 who were choosing nursing as a career led to concerns that there would be future nurse shortages unless the trend was reversed. Between 2002 and 2009, however, the number of full-time-equivalent registered nurses ages 23-26 increased by 62 percent. If these young nurses follow the same life-cycle employment patterns as those who preceded them--as they appear to be thus far--then they will be the largest cohort of registered nurses ever observed. Because of this surge in the number of young people entering nursing during the past decade, the nurse workforce is projected to grow faster during the next two decades than previously anticipated. However, it is uncertain whether interest in nursing will continue to grow in the future.

Key Findings

  • The number of people aged 23 to 26—primarily women—who became registered nurses increased by 62 percent from 2002 to 2009.
  • If the trend continues, by 2030 there will be enough registered nurses to meet the nation's projected needs.
  • Growth can be attributed to efforts promoting nursing careers, and expanded enrollment and accelerated training schedules in nurse training programs.

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