Impact of the Economy on the Nursing Shortage
The current downturn in the U.S. economy has led to an easing of the nursing shortage in some parts of the country. Though the nursing workforce is showing signs of stabilizing, workforce analysts caution nurse educators, policymakers, employers, and other stakeholders from calling this the end of the nursing shortage. AACN developed these talking points to help explain how the ailing economy is impacting the supply of registered nurses (RNs), share the latest projections on the need for nurses, and offer advice that can be shared with new nursing graduates seeking positions during this time.
Short-Term Easing of the Nursing Shortage
In March 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine released a perspective piece titled Registered Nurse Labor Supply and the Recession-Are We in a Bubble?,” which examined the connection between the unemployment rate and RN supply. Though the authors acknowledge a short-term easing of the shortage, workforce analysts project a return of the nursing shortage in only a few short years as the economy recovers and the unemployment rate shrinks. By 2015, the authors project that approximately 118,000 RNs are expected to leave the profession, which will leave many vacancies to fill. See: http://www.nejm.org.
On December 5, 2011, the journal Health Affairs published an article titled “Registered
Nurse Supply Grows Faster than Projected Amid Surge in New Entrants Ages 23-26,” which focused on a large cohort of younger nurses entering the profession and the impact this may have on the future workforce. In the article, Drs. David Auerbach, Peter Buerhaus, and Douglas Staiger found a 62% increase in the number of 23-26 year olds becoming RNs between 2002 and 2009. Though welcome news given the rapid aging of the nursing workforce, the authors do not conclude that nursing shortage is over given the growing demand for nursing care by older adults, new opportunities for nurses through the healthcare reform, and the need for more highly educated RNs. See: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/12/2286.abstract
In a a joint statement released in July 2010, the tri-council for Nursing acknowledged the temporary easing of the nursing shortage in some regions of the U.S., but “raised concerns about slowing the production of RNs given the projected demand for nursing services,
particularly in light of healthcare reform.” In this same statement, nursing workforce analyst
Peter Buerhaus from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing called for stakeholders to
“resist the short-term urge to curtail the production of RNs” since the impending wave of RN
retirements and the increasing demand for healthcare services underscores the need to
maintain our nation’s nursing education capacity. See
In an article published in the July/August 2009 issue of Health Affairs, Dr. Peter Buerhaus and colleagues confirmed that the economic recession has led to a temporary easing of the nursing shortage in some parts of the country, even though the shortfall in the number of nurses needed is expected to grow to 260,000 by the year 2025. In the near-term many hospitals will report an end to the shortage, and new nursing graduates may experience difficulty finding jobs, but these workforce analysts caution that a significant nursing shortage still looms.
As I reflect on this article two concerns come to mind. Are we ready for the "Silver Sunammi." And how will we mentor new grads or how does the fact that many older more experienced nurses have gone on to upper graduate levels affect the shortage?