Not everything’s fixed
Nurse ranks rise, but some say it may be temporary
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.