Wave of Young Nurses May Avert Projected Shortfall

A serious shortage of nurses predicted by 2030 is unlikely to occur, thanks to a spike in the number of young people entering the profession over the past decade, a new study suggests. (Image: iStockphoto.com/Tammy Bryngelson)

A surge in the number of young people entering nursing in their early 20s over the past decade may prevent the serious nursing workforce shortage that experts had predicted would occur by 2030, according to an analysis published today in Health Affairs.

A convergence of trends, including decreased interest in nursing as a profession among young people in the 1980s and 1990s, a growing elderly population, and the pending retirement of the baby boomer generation of nurses, had led to projections of a serious shortage of nurses by 2030. But a new analysis of data from the US Census Bureau suggests that efforts to prevent the shortfall by promoting nursing as a career may have paid off with a record cohort of young nurses entering the profession in the past decade.

David I. Auerbach, PhD, health economist at RAND Health, and his colleagues found that after the number of 23- to 26-year-old nurses peaked in 1979 at 190 000 full-time equivalents, that number dropped by nearly half to 110 000 by 1991 and stayed low for a decade. But a 62% surge in the number of young nurses between 2002 and 2009 (from 102 000 to 165 000) seems to have reversed this trend.

“This is a very welcome and surprising development,” Auerbach said. “Instead of worrying about a decline, we are now growing the supply of nurses.”

If such interest in nursing persists, the supply of nurses will continue to grow at the same rate as the population, predict Auerbach and his colleagues. However, concerns remain about potential regional shortages or a mismatch between the specific types of jobs nurses are being trained for and future demand.

Categories: Aging/Geriatrics, Health Policy, Nursing Care