A Nursing Resurgence

A study published in June of 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association painted a pretty bleak picture of the future of nursing. Of particular concern was whether there would be enough nurses to go around by the year 2020. They projected that there would be 20% fewer nurses than would actually be required.

A number of news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, are noting a new study by the same authors that shows that now, things are looking much better since then:

There has been a resurgence of interest in nursing by both younger folks and those entering the field later in life, according to a new study (by the same authors) published in Health Affairs. And if growth continues at its current rate — admittedly, a big “if” — the shortage posed by retiring baby boomers might be alleviated, the researchers write.

The number of full-time-equivalent registered nurses aged 23 to 26 increased by 62% between 2002 and 2009, according to the study. Separately, there’s been a trend in the last decade for people to turn to nursing as a second career, explains David Auerbach, lead author of the study and a health economist at the Rand Corp.

That means that with the current crop of younger RNs, “we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg” — others will likely join that cohort as the years go on, he tells the Health Blog.

What’s with the renewed interest in nursing? While it’s hard to say definitively, the poor economy seems to play a big role, Auerbach says. (We’ve previously noted the role the recession played in attracting people to nursing — see here and here.) Nursing is seen as somewhat of a “safe haven” during a down economy, he says.

The big question, Auerbach says, is “whether this trend has the potential to reverse” the projected shortages. The answer is yes: the paper concludes that the workforce “is now projected to grow at roughly the same rate as the population through 2030.”

There are some caveats, though, including the possibility that an improving economy might make nursing careers less attractive; that the current tough economy resulting in nurses having a harder time getting jobs might put a damper on the resurgence; and that it is “unclear whether we are producing the workforce ideally suited for population needs,” such as RNs specializing in geriatrics.

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