THURSDAY, July 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The nation's supply
of registered nurses has been growing faster than expected, largely
because baby boomers in nursing are working longer than ever
before, according to a new study.
Due to both the delayed retirement of experienced nurses and a
surge in new nursing graduates, there were almost 3 million nurses
in the United States in 2012, about half a million more than
estimated a decade ago.
Exactly why baby boomer nurses aren't retiring isn't known. But
it could be that they are part of a trend among other Americans,
particularly women, said David Auerbach, senior policy researcher
at the RAND Corporation in Boston. "They may be staying in the
workforce because of their longer life expectancy and the
satisfaction they get from being employed."
Auerbach suggested that it's possible that the trend is part of
a shift that is bigger than nursing and more about the position of
women in the workforce. "They are mirroring the position of men,
working longer, especially in challenging economic times," he
The trend of registered nurses (RNs) delaying retirement has
extended the average nursing career by 2.5 years after age 50, and
increased the 2012 workforce by 136,000 registered nurses,
according to the research.
The size of the registered nurse workforce is particularly
sensitive to changes in retirement age, given the large number of
baby boomer nurses now employed. About 74 percent of those nurses
who are 62, and 24 percent who are 69 are still working, the
While it may be a positive thing for seasoned nurses to stay in
their jobs longer, new graduates are finding it harder to get work,
A nursing shortage in the late 1990s, coupled with the
anticipation of baby boomer nurses retiring in droves, spurred
colleges to expand nursing education programs after 2000, said
Auerbach. "Between 2002 and 2012 the number of nursing school
graduates doubled," he said.
But the Great Recession that began in 2008 may have changed the
retirement plans of many nurses, who might have seen their
retirement funds plummet, had unemployed or underemployed spouses
and, possibly, adult children returning home, said Judee Berg,
executive director and president of the California Institute for
Nursing and Health Care.
At the same time, the health care system has been retooling in
response to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, aiming to
reduce the number of days people are hospitalized and putting more
emphasis on outpatient and home care, said Berg. That means some
new graduates of nursing programs are finding hospital jobs harder
to find, she added.
But experts are predicting an emerging new shortage -- a perfect
storm -- when the economy improves, boomer nurses finally retire
and the entire generation of baby boomers are seniors. Data from
the U.S Census Bureau show there are more than 76 million baby
boomers in the United States. "There is a real concern that there
is a pent-up retirement that is going to happen," Berg said.
Even now, the job shortage for new nurses is not universal. Some
regions of the United States -- Texas, Florida and North Dakota --
have many jobs available for new graduates, Berg said.
Information for the study came from the American Community
Survey (ACS) and the Current Population Survey (CPS), from 2001 to
2012. The data included all respondents aged 23 to 69 who reported
being employed as a registered nurse during the week of the
The CPS surveys more than 100,000 people and is administered by
the Census Bureau; it provides data on about 3,000 to 4,000
registered nurses per year. The ACS survey included up to 30,000
registered nurses for the sample period. The data was used to
estimate the number of full-time nurses working each year and their
For the time being, the trend means that consumers of health
care will likely have more experienced and knowledgeable nurses,
both in hospitals and in community and home care settings, said
"Patients will probably notice just a continued graying of the nurses they see," echoed Auerbach.
The study findings were published online July 16 and in the
August print issue of the journal
Learn more about becoming a registered nurse from the
American Nurses Association.
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