Time and again we have heard news reports that point to a shortage of registered nurses throughout much of the country. With demand for healthcare services on the rise, spurred by technical advances in medical care, a growing population generally and an expanding seniors population in particular, the conventional wisdom in most circles is that the registered nurse shortage will likely worsen in the coming years.
To be sure, nursing schools are turning out new RNs at good clip, but with lots of baby-boom era nurses heading for retirement themselves, the conventional wisdom is that the overall growth in the supply of registered nurses is not keeping pace with current and anticipated demand growth for healthcare services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects registered nurse employment will grow by more than 525,000 jobs between 2012 and 2022. Moreover, taking into account the need to replace RNs who will be retiring or leaving the workforce, the BLS anticipates more than 1,000,000 registered nurse positions will need to be filled in that same time period (see Line 6 in this BLS report).
Given the BLS forecasts and the steady flow of news warning of nursing shortages, we were interested to discover this report, The Future of the Nursing Workforce: National and State Level Projection, 2012-2025, issued last month by the National Center for Workforce Analysis (NCWA), a unit of the Health Resources and Services Administration, which itself is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This NCWA study projects that changing demographics and broader insurance coverage will require an additional 612,000 registered nurses by 2025. While this is a seemingly good trend for current and prospective registered nurses, the NCWA analysis foresees the supply of RNs to grow at an even faster clip. Despite projected attrition of nearly 1 million RNs from the workforce over the next decade, at the rate nursing schools are turning out RNs, The NCWA expects that almost 2 million new registered nurses will be joining the workforce during this period. So by 2025, the supply of registered nurses will grow by 952,000 in the NCWA analysis. If that happens, by 2025 we could see 340,000 more registered nurses nationally than there will be registered nursing positions.
It is important to note that in the NCWA forecast model it is assumed that registered nurse supply and demand were equal in 2012. Nurse hiring managers might disagree with that assumption. That said, the NCWA analysis infers that the growing number of net new entrants into the registered nursing profession will materially outpace demand growth over the next decade. If that is the case, whatever RN shortage we have today will, at a minimum, dissipate in coming years and, if the NCWA forecast is realized, could turn into a registered nurse glut over the next decade.