In a surprising reversal from the gloomy predictions we’ve been hearing about a catastrophic nursing shortage, it looks like the tide has turned.
New numbers show there’s been a recent surge of young people entering nursing. Here’s the scoop:
- During the 1980s, the number of 23- to 26-year old nurses reportedly dropped by half. It continued to fall during the ‘90s, and hit an all-time low in 2002, when there were just 102,000 registered nurses between the ages 23 to 26.
- These declining numbers led to projections that, as older nurses retired with no one to replace them, the industry would face a serious nursing shortage by 2020.
- A recent study by Dartmouth economists shows this trend has reversed, however. An analysis published in the journal Health Affairs finds that the number of young nurses jumped 62 percent between 2002 and 2009, from that low point 102,000 to 165,000.
- These new numbers suggest that it’s possible the supply of young nurses will keep pace with industry needs through 2030 – IF nothing derails this new trend. And if the trend continues, the researchers project that people born in the 1980s could one day make up the largest cohort of registered nurses ever.
So what kind of magic bullet has slowed the predicted nursing shortage? It probably had something to do with aggressive efforts to attract more young people to nursing as a career, and perhaps to a boost in federal funding for nursing education. The sorry state of the economy probably played a role too – as the outlook for other jobs grew bleaker, nursing grew more attractive and become a kind of safe haven during tough times.
So what does this all mean for YOUR nursing career?
If you believed projections of a nursing shortage gave you a certain measure of job security, don’t despair. You probably haven’t lost that job security. Consider this:
The most current projections for the number of nurses the nation will need in 2030 don’t take into account the expansion of health care services that will most likely occur as health care reforms kick in during this decade — meaning the need for more nurses may continue to grow after all.
And, as the economy improves, older nurses who have postponed retirement until they can afford it may begin to retire in huge numbers, opening up potential opportunities for young nurses to advance. As an article in Health Leaders Media points out, the majority of nurse managers are in the baby boomer generation – it goes on to state:
It would be a great folly to wait until they are desperate for retirement before training their replacements. The need for formal succession planning is clear. The two largest cohorts of nurses are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The younger group needs professional development opportunities and mentoring from their more experienced colleagues… Succession planning programs will provide a roadmap to ensure future nurse staffing needs are met.
If you’re a young nurse, it’s likely your organization will be looking hard at your leadership potential, as it plans for its next generation of nurse managers. If this is appealing to you, there are a few things you can do to ensure your own success. You can learn to demonstrate leadership skills at any stage of your career. And you can incrementally increase your education, while you work, through a flexible, online RN to BSN or RN to MSN degree. Advanced nursing education builds on your clinical skills in a way that encourages critical thinking. It also provides a broader perspective of health care systems, finance, and operations in a way that prepares a nurse for a management role.
Even if you think you’re not interested in nursing management, there are other ways education can further your career as well – for example, through programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management and infection control.