Hospitals

What nursing shortage? Surge of young RNs closes deficit, report says

A sharp uptick in the number of young registered nurses entering the profession means that concerns about a U.S. nursing shortage may be a thing of the past, according to a new report in Health Affairs. Between 2002 and 2009, the number of young registered nurses (between 23 and 26 years old) entering the field […]

A sharp uptick in the number of young registered nurses entering the profession means that concerns about a U.S. nursing shortage may be a thing of the past, according to a new report in Health Affairs.

Between 2002 and 2009, the number of young registered nurses (between 23 and 26 years old) entering the field grew 62 percent, a growth rate not seen since the 1970s, according to the report.

Given that impressive expansion, the registered nurse (RN) workforce is now expected to grow at roughly the same rate as the population through 2030, rather than lag population growth, as previously thought.

That new conclusion stands in sharp contrast to worried pronouncements about a looming nursing shortage threatening the quality of patient care in the U.S. Such pronouncements have popped up in the media from time to time in recent years and likely helped convince some nurses to move into the profession.

For example, a 2009 report in Health Affairs projected the U.S. nursing shortage to reach to 260,000 registered nurses by 2025. The 2009 report was written by two of the authors of the new report.

Researchers cited several reasons for the surge in young RNs joining the profession, with the most obvious being a weak economy that’s nonetheless seen employment growth in the healthcare industry. In addition, federal spending for nursing workforce development has risen threefold over the last decade to $240 million in 2010, according to the researchers.

Despite the massive growth in younger people joining the nursing workforce, concerns about the profession still remain, such as whether the workforce will meet the population’s needs. For example, it’s highly likely there’ll be a strong need in the future for nurses trained in geriatrics and those who can work in ambulatory settings where most care will be delivered, but it’s unclear whether enough nurses have those skills today.

“It is great to have the quantity, but if we don’t educate nurses for the positions that the healthcare delivery system requires, then this is a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Peter Buerhaus of Vanderbilt University, a coauthor of the report.

Additionally, there’s one problem related to the nursing shortage that can’t be addressed by an influx of young workers: a lack of qualified faculty to teach nursing students. U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 68,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2010 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space and budget constraints, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.