Nurse Retention: Nursing Workforce Growing to Meet the Nursing Shortage

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, August 22nd, 2013

A new government report suggests that the nursing workforce is in a better position now to meet future health care needs than it was 10 years ago.

The nursing workforce is larger, more highly educated and more diverse, according to a study released by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

There are 2.74 million nurses practicing in the United States, and about 500,000 of them are expected to retire by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By then the nation will need to prepare 1.2 million more nurses to meet projected needs, due to increased demand and nurses retiring or leaving the field.

The good news is that the nursing workforce grew substantially in the last decade. In the 2000s, the number of registered nurses (RNs) grew 24%, and the number of licensed practical nurses (LPNs) grew 15.5%. Notably, that growth rate outpaced population growth; the number of registered nurses per capita grew 14% in the last decade.

There were also more nurses on the verge of entering the workforce, or in the so-called nursing pipeline. In 2011, more than 142,000 new nurse graduates passed the national licensure examination, up from about 69,000 in 2001.

More nurses also chose to advance their education, which will help provide the highly skilled care needed to treat an increasing patient population. At the beginning of the decade, 50% of the nation’s nurses had a bachelor’s degree or higher; at its end, the percentage had climbed to 55%.

The HRSA study shows rapid growth in the number of bachelor’s-prepared nurses in the future. The number of graduate nurses with bachelor’s degrees taking licensure exams for the first time more than doubled between 2001 and 2011.

The nursing workforce is also slowly becoming more diverse. The percentage of non-white RNs rose from 20 to 25% over the past decade. And the percentage of men in the profession crept up about 1 percentage point, to 9%.

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