Surge In Young Female Nurses Helps Alleviate Nursing Shortage

December 8, 2011

Young nursing studentThe number of full-time registered nurses in the U.S. has been increasing, progress that could help to ease the expected shortage by 2020, according to a new study.

According to Third Age, economists David I. Auerbach of Rand Health, Peter I. Buerhaus of Vanderbilt University and Douglas O. Staiger of Dartmouth University, found that between 2002 and 2009, the field gained 63,000 nurses who were between the ages of 23 and 26. That was an increase from 102,000 nurses in 2002 to 165,000 in 2009, a growth of 62 percent. The number of people entering nursing at age 30 or older also has been increasing.

"Compared to where nursing supply was just a few years ago, the change is incredible," said David Auerbach, the study's lead author, to the Los Angeles Times. "If it keeps going, it turns everything on its head and it's a major revolution."

Third Age reported that a state Board of Registered Nursing report found that in California alone, more than 11,500 people graduated from nursing schools in 2010, up from 5,300 in 2002.

The 62 percent nationwide increase means the RN ranks are expected to grow at about the same rate as the population between now and 2030. By then, there might be enough nurses to meet the projected needs of baby boomers and health care, the study showed, despite previous predictions of a shortage of 400,000 RNs by 2020.

Interestingly, the surge in nurses was primarily fueled by young women.

"The spike we've seen in young women becoming registered nurses is dramatic," Auerbach was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying. "If the trend continues, it will help to ease some of the concerns about future nursing shortages."

Furthermore, if the upswing in nursing lasts, individuals born in the 1980s could eventually comprise the largest contingency of registered nurses ever.

So why the turnabout? The authors cited the advent of accelerated degree programs (some as short as one year), widespread publicity about the potential nursing shortage, major recruitment campaigns and a tripling of federal funding to $240 million from $80 million between 2001 and 2010, NPR noted.

However despite the positive growth, the problem of a nursing shortage may not be alleviated entirely. Currently, there are not enough people to train all the individuals who want to become nurses. For example, 55,000 qualified applicants had to be turned down in 2010, up from 16,000 in 2003, NPR reported. Hospitals, foundations and policymakers, however, are working to expand nursing school openings.

Also, concern exists that nurses graduating today won't have the proper training to care for the nation's aging baby boomers. The Affordable Care Act will require fewer hospital-based nurses and more nurses who are able to work with older patients in outpatient settings. Nurses are also unlikely to relocate after being trained, which means that parts of the country may experience a shortage even though the overall supply is adequate.

Compiled by Doresa Banning


"A growing number of registered nurses in California, U.S.," articles.latimes.com, December 6, 2011, Anna Gorman

"As More Choose Nursing, Shortage Less Likely, Study Finds," articles.latimes.com, December 5, 2011, Eryn Brown

"Registered Nurse Surge May Fill Shortage By 2030: Report," thirdage.com, December 7, 2011, Claire Shefchik

"Young People Put Dent In Nursing Shortage," npr.org, December 5, 2011, Julie Rovner

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