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Still Not Enough Nurses to Go Around

Growth in ranks won't prevent future shortages, study finds

FRIDAY, Nov. 19, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Even though there's a steady increase in the number of new registered nurses in the United States, it's still not enough to prevent a long-term shortage that could cripple the nation's health-care system, says a new study.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center School of Nursing found that more than 200,000 registered nurses (RNs) have entered the work force since 2001, the largest increase since the 1980s.

"While RNs over age 50 have provided much of the expansion of hospital employment since 2001, it is striking that in 2003, employment of younger RNs grew by nearly 90,000, reaching the highest level observed for younger RNs since 1987," study author Peter Buerhaus, a senior associate dean for research at the School of Nursing, said in a prepared statement.

"This entry of younger RNs into the work force is consistent with reports of substantial gains in enrollments at nursing schools since 2001, and may represent the first wave of two-year program graduates," he said.

But even with this large number of new nurses entering the work force, the nursing shortage in this country is far from over, Buerhaus added.

"The work force is projected to peak at a size of 2.3 million in 2012 and shrink to 2.2 million by 2020 -- a modest increase of roughly 60,000 RNs over forecasts without the new data. This total pales in comparison to the Health and Resource Service Administration's latest forecast of 2.8 million full-time RNs that will be needed in 2020. Thus, a very, very large shortage still looms on the horizon, a shortage so large that it could easily cripple the entire health-care system, not just hospitals," Buerhaus said.

The study appears in the Nov. 17 issue of Health Affairs.

More information

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has more about the nursing shortage.

SOURCE: Vanderbilt University, news release, Nov. 17, 2004
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