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Nursing Ranks, Employment Growing

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 24, 2010

The number of licensed registered nurses (RNs) nationwide grew 5% to a new annual high of 3.1 million between 2004 and 2008—representing a net growth of 153,806 nurses, according to a report released Wednesday by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The youngest population of nurses also grew for the first time in 30 years, which helped "restock the pool" of RNs, according to the report. An estimated 444,668 RNs received their first U.S. license from 2004 through 2008, while about 291,000 RNs allowed their licenses to lapse, possibly indicating the substantial number of retirements that have begun to take place.

The most commonly reported initial nursing education of RNs is the associate degree in nursing (AD), representing 45.4% of nurses. Bachelor's or graduate degrees were received by 34.2% of RNs, and 20.4% received their initial education in hospital-based diploma programs. Nearly two-thirds of RNs reported working in a health occupation prior to their initial nursing education.

Fewer than half of nurses with master's degrees work in hospitals. However, more than 18% are in ambulatory care settings and nearly 12% are in academic education.

In 2008, an estimated 2,596,399 RNs were employed in nursing— representing 84.8% of licensed RNs. This was the highest rate of nursing employment since the national survey started in 1977. Also, the first increase was reported in full-time employment since 1996—rising from 58.4% of RNs in 2004 to 63.2% in 2008.

Among nurses under 50 years, 90% or more are employed in nursing positions. This percentage, though, drops to less than half of RNs over age 65.

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