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Nursing Workforce Stats Take a Surprising Turn

   December 06, 2011

The researchers project the RN workforce will grow at roughly the same rate as the general population through 2030, which is great news for the nursing shortage and should mean its effects are less severe than previously thought. It's giving hospitals hope that the increase of younger nurses will temper some of the effects of baby boomers leaving the profession.

Despite all this good news, it's worth noting we're not completely out of the woods. The highest proportion of nurses in the workforce is still the older generations. According to the 2008 National Sample Survey of RNs, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, 44.7% of nurses were older than 50 in 2008. The median age is 46. The influx of younger nurses is helping more than expected, but it won't entirely solve all our problems.

What does this mean for healthcare? It's not time to abandon retention programs. We know that the aging population will require more and more healthcare services, so we'll need all the help we can get.

In addition, the majority of your nurse leaders and nurse managers are likely from the baby boomer generation. It would be a great folly to wait until they are desperate for retirement before training their replacements.

The need for formal succession planning is clear. The two largest cohorts of nurses are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The younger group needs professional development opportunities and mentoring from their more experienced colleagues. The older group needs creative ways to keep them engaged and able to stay in the workforce as long as they want.

Succession planning programs will provide a roadmap to ensure future nurse staffing needs are met.

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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