Not every­thing’s fixed

Nurse ranks rise, but some say it may be tem­po­rary

Modern Healthcare - - THE WEEK IN HEALTHCARE - Ashok Selvam

Data against the nurs­ing short­age con­tin­ues to build, like ice form­ing on a side­walk on a frigid win­ter day. But no mat­ter the ev­i­dence, some peo­ple still tend to slip over the facts. Two stud­ies re­leased last week sug­gested the light at the end of the nurs­ing short­age’s tun­nel is in sight, but re­searchers re­main skep­ti­cal.

“This could be a tem­po­rary ef­fect,” said David Auer­bach, re­searcher with the RAND Corp.’s Bos­ton of­fices. Auer­bach was the lead author of one of the stud­ies, pub­lished in the De­cem­ber is­sue of Health Af­fairs. The re­sults re­vealed more young nurses than ever are en­ter­ing the pro­fes­sion. About 165,000 full-time equiv­a­lent reg­is­tered nurses ages 23-26 en­tered the work­force in 2009, an in­crease from 2002’s fig­ure of 102,000. That means 62% more RNS joined the work­force from 2002 to 2009.

That news sur­prised the re­searchers: “It just blew our socks off,” said Auer­bach, who said this cur­rent crop of 23- to 26-year-old nurses is the largest ever.

The last time nurses ap­proached these numbers was in 1956, Auer­bach said. He and his col­leagues pre­dicted this cur­rent level of in­ter­est in nurs­ing will last un­til 2030, and if that holds true, the short­age will soon be­come a mem­ory. It’s a re­ver­sal of a trend from 1983 to 1998 that saw the pro­por­tion of the RN work­force younger than age 30 dwin­dle to 12% from 30%.

The co­hort could con­tinue to grow, Auer­bach said: “These guys are still go­ing to school; they’re not done be­com­ing nurses yet.”

Sev­eral fac­tors sparked the re­newed in­ter­est in nurs­ing. Auer­bach cred­ited a sag­ging econ­omy and sin­gled out the elim­i­na­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs as rea­sons for nurs­ing’s pop­u­lar­ity.

An­other study re­leased last week, by the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­leges of Nurs­ing, showed that the num­ber of stu­dents ap­ply­ing to four-year Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence nurs­ing pro­grams rose 3.9% this year com­pared with 2010. The find­ings show that stu­dents have rec­og­nized the at­trac­tive­ness of a four-year nurs­ing de­gree to prospec­tive em­ploy­ers, said Geral­dine “Polly” Bed­nash, CEO and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Washington, D.c.-based AACN.

Bed­nash noted that nurs­ing schools are us­ing new and creative ways to at­tract and more ef­fi­ciently ed­u­cate stu­dents.

Yet, no mat­ter how pos­i­tive the news ap­peared in solv­ing the nurs­ing short­age, Bed­nash ap­proached the news with cau­tion.

“I think it’s a very pos­i­tive mes­sage about the nurses, but I don’t think you can read the Health Af­fairs re­port and think every­thing’s fixed,” she said.

Though the re­sults of the study are pos­i­tive, Bed­nash said she won­dered if younger nurses would con­tinue to move into the pro­fes­sion.

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