When researchers took a look at the number of new students entering nursing school, they were pleasantly surprised to learn that the nursing shortage may not be as bad as they once predicted it would be when the baby boomer nurses begin to retire or leave the profession.
Dr. David I. Auerbach conducted the study published in the December 2011 issue of Health Affairs and found that each new data set from year-to-year showed increasing numbers of new young nursing students. Analysis of more than 35 years of Census data showed that in the 80’s and 90’s the number of registered nurses younger than 30 years of age was down from 30 percent to 12 percent, and that the average age of the nurses rose from 37 to 41. The profession was on track for a severe shortage of more than 250,000 nurses by the time the last of the baby boomers retired.
From 2002 to 2009, however, that trend reversed and there was a 62 percent rise in new nurses age 23 to 26. Dr. Auerbach credits several forces coming together to increase interest in the profession, including Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future, and government’s increase of funds for healthcare professional training.
In areas of the country with a lower population density, however, gaps remain. The nearest nursing program may be 100 miles away and studies show that more than 50 percent of nurses tend to take a position within 40 miles of where they live. If a student has to move to go to school, will they come back to their hometown?
Currently Dr. Auerbach is studying the tendency for nurses to remain in the profession for a longer period of time during times of high unemployment. In some areas of the country, this phenomenon is creating a larger workforce and limited opportunities. In other areas, such as Pittsburgh, there was never going to be a nursing shortage. With 17 area nursing programs all feeding the needs of the local healthcare systems, jobs were scarce and pay rates were low due to the glut of available nurses.
At the onset of the recession, many healthcare systems simply eliminated many of their available nursing positions and lowered their staffing levels to combat decreased patient loads due to layoffs and benefit loss. As the economy recovers, however, some of these positions may reopen as needs increase.