A new report in Health Affairs outlines how a surge in young women in their twenties entering the nursing field has put a dent in the long-discussed nursing shortage, a boomlet fueled by a weak economy that may ease concerns about an aging workforce of registered nurses (RNs) in the nation’s hospitals and long term care facilities.
“Between 2002 and 2009 ... the number of full-time RNs 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 so far, they will be the largest cohort of registered nurses ever observed,” the article said.
Nurses, like teachers, are less likely to change professions or move locales as is the case in other sectors, leading to the projection for more stability in nursing numbers because of the recent influx of young people in the field.
The report noted that because of the surge in the number of young people entering nursing, the RN 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,” the article said.
The number of RNs between 23 and 26 years old reached a high of 190,000 in 1979, but fell sharply to below 110,00 in the early 1990s. The report said the level hit a low of 102,000 in 2002 before the recent climb higher.
The authors from RAND Health, Vanderbilt University, and Dartmouth College said the downturn in the economy in recent years was an obvious first reason for the uptick in nurses. There is also the factor of federal spending for nursing workforce employment that rose to $240 million in 2010.
If the trend holds, the RN supply is now projected to keep pace with the growth in population through the year 2030. Previous estimates projected a massive 250,000-plus shortage in RNs over the next two decades.
What could hold back the positive trend is the lack of capacity in the nation’s nursing schools to teach all potential applicants, the report said.
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