The Dreaded Nursing Shortage: 1.9 Million RNs Needed By 2022


By ASRN Staff

On one hand, things are looking pretty dandy for nursing in the United States: the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 19 percent growth in employment for registered nurses from 2016–2022. Compare that to an 7 percent average growth rate for all occupations. That's a reason to celebrate.

But here's the twist: The recent boom made it easier for older nurses to retire and entry-level nurses to find other work, as more experienced nurses leave the workforce. So now there's a nurse shortage – and it's happening all over the world.

In 2017, a World Health Organization report revealed that half the world had a nursing shortage. According to WHO, 48% of the member states have less than 3 nurses per 1,000 people.  Even worse, 27% have less than 1 nurse per 1,000 people.  By comparison, the US has 10 nurses per 1,000 people.

And as for the U.S., the demand for health care is only expected to increase here. With 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day and entering into Medicare and Social Securtity.  This is expected to continue into the 2030's. 

With a shortage expected also among primary care physicians, some assert that nurses can help fill the gaps. Which leads us to a basic supply-and-demand problem: We need 'em, but we don't got 'em.

A cohort of nurses entered the profession in the 1970s have aged into their 60s and are getting ready to retire. So between now and 2022, not only will there be an expected 500,000 registered nurses needed by the growing demand of an aging population— but also another 1.4 milion nurses are expected to retire or leave the profession and need to be replaced.  That's a total of 1.9 million registered nurses that will be needed. 

The pipeline itself is in danger, and has been for some time. Title VIII funding for nursing education has been eaten away by inflation over the years. Plus, it's tough to replace aging faculty at nursing schools with well-paid nurse practitioners and midwives. Taking teaching jobs over well-paying gigs at hospitals is a tough sell — the pay loss for many faculty would be as much as $30,000–$50,000 a year.

It might be time to address current and projected nursing shortages before we're all sick and the nurses are all exhausted.

Meanwhile, there's a bit of good news: More men have been entering nursing in the last few decades, a field that has been stereotypically female-dominated. For that, we say, Kudos.


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