What Nursing Shortage?



NASHVILLE (ASRN.ORG)- A new study offers an encouraging yet cautionary tale on the nursing profession, indicating the recession may be easing the 11-year-long nursing shortage in many areas of the country, but urging action from employers and policymakers to avoid future shortages.

The study's authors focused on assessing the impact of the recession on current nurse employment, and on projections of the future age and supply of registered nurses in the U.S. They found RN employment in hospitals increased by an estimated 243,000 (18 percent) full-time positions in 2007-2008 - the largest 2-year increase in 30 years.

However, the employment surge is only a respite for the nation's healthcare system as a shortage of 260,000 RNs is projected to develop by 2025, according to the study, "The Recent Surge in Nurse Employment: Causes and Implications."

The study's authors were led by noted researcher Peter I. Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies, Institute for Medicine and Public Health, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, both in Nashville, TN.

"I think the issue is to be careful about getting too distracted about the short-run situation and really think about the long run," said Buerhaus. "Relief is likely to be temporary and we need to focus on how the current workforce is changing and the implications for future imbalances in the nurse labor market in the years ahead."

Returning to Work

The need for caution arises from the fact that easily half of the increase in employment in 2007-2008 can be attributed to nurses over the age of 50 who had already left the market and are coming back to work, most likely in response to the employment insecurity of their spouses, Buerhaus explained.

Indeed, between 2001 and 2008, 77 percent of the increase in total RN employment was accounted for by RNs over the age of 50, the age group that is growing fastest among professional nursing.

The recent increase also resulted from nurses who would normally be staying home with children instead returning to the workforce, part-time workers increasing to full-time hours, and RNs who had been working outside of the hospital coming in to the hospital sector.

A drop in employment of RNs among non-hospital settings, including clinics, long-term care facilities, schools and home health care agencies, amounted to 50,000 full-time positions in 2008, the study showed.

This decrease is attributed to a combination of factors, such as:


  • higher average earnings paid by hospitals compared to non-hospital settings ($27.60 per hour vs. $24.63 in 2008);
  • more generous benefits offered by hospitals, particularly health insurance; and
  • 12-hour shifts commonly offered by hospitals that enable nurses to work 3 days per week, receive full-time benefits and still have ample time to work overtime hours or a second job.


Copyright 2009- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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