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Although the number of nurses entering the profession has risen for 2 consecutive years, the nursing shortage probably isn't over. In a major study of RNs in the United States, researchers used data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) to track trends in annual RN employment and earnings. The CPS offers a large representative sample of nurses across many years.


Led by noted expert Peter Buerhaus, researchers found that nursing wage increases, relatively high national unemployment, and widespread private-sector initiatives to attract nurses helped drive employment growth. The data indicate that in 2003, younger people (especially women in their early 30s), men, older women, and (to a lesser extent) foreign-born nurses account for the growth in nursing employment.

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Still, despite an increase of about 185,000 hospital RNs since 2001, evidence suggests that the nursing shortage will persist. Many older RNs will retire in the coming years, and the supply of younger and foreign-born nurses isn't high enough to meet the demand.


The researchers also reported these findings:


* Total RN employment increased by 5.1% (about 100,000 nurses) from 2001 to 2002; all of this growth occurred in hospitals.


* RN earnings in 2002 increased by 4.9% (inflation adjusted) after a decade of stagnant earnings. Earnings also increased in 2003, but not as much as in 2002.


* Most of the growth in nurse employment in 2002 was owed to older RNs reentering the workforce and the new entry of foreign-born nurses: Hospital employment of nurses older than age 50 increased by 15.8%, and employment of foreign-born nurses rose by 13.8%.


* Three-quarters of younger RNs (those under age 35) entering the workforce are recent graduates of 2-year associate degree programs.





New signs of a strengthening U.S. nurse labor market? Health Affairs, P Buerhaus, et al., November 17, 2004.