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Nursing Workforce Stats Take a Surprising Turn

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   December 06, 2011

A nursing study out this week brings hospitals some welcome good news: The nursing shortage may not be as bad we feared it would be.

Nurse staffing gurus David Auerbach, health economist at RAND Health; Peter Buerhaus from Vanderbilt University; and Douglas Staiger from Dartmouth took a look at 35 years of data and discovered the number of people ages 23-26 entering nursing has increased 62% from 2002 to 2009.

"This is a very welcome and surprising development," says Auerbach, in a media release. "Instead of worrying about a decline, we are now growing the supply of nurses."

The study, published in Health Affairs, shows the nursing workforce is changing and the percentage of younger nurses is higher than in decades, reflecting a dramatic turnaround from the previous two decades. Between 1983 and 1998, the proportion of nurses younger than 30 dropped from 30% to 12%. In turn, this led to an increase in average age from 37.4 to 42. Increasing options for female employment is one of the reasons for fewer younger nurses in these decades.

The workforce stats have been worrying healthcare leaders since the 90s, as experts predicted future shortfalls. Programs have been developed to increase the numbers of college courses and promote nursing as a career. It appears these effort have been working, combined with factors such as the perceived stability of healthcare employment, decline in manufacturing jobs, and growing popularity of nursing for people in their 20s and 30s.

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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