A nurse gap with positions to fill is no shortage in the United States after a decade-long push for new hires and more graduates, at least until 2020. That’s when the shortage could leave a big gap when a glut of retirees will leave the field.
The number of full-time nurses grew by about 386,000 from 2005 to 2010 and about a third of the growth occurred as unemployment rose to a high of 10 percent during that period, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The increase in the nursing workforce from 2005 to 2010 was the largest of any five-year period during the last 40 years, the authors said. Hospitals began experiencing a shortage of nurses in 1998, according to the American Hospital Association in 2002.
“It’s really been a long-standing shortage,” Douglas Staiger, the study author and a professor of economics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, said in a March 19 telephone interview. “Probably for the first time in memory there were actually reports of nurses having difficulty finding jobs and reports from hospitals of almost a glut of nurses.”
In the early part of this century, many registered nurses were leaving the profession saying they were overworked, underpaid and unable to provide good patient care, according to a 2002 report in the New England Journal of Medicine. Hospitals responded by encouraging people to become nurses by offering more benefits, signing bonuses, scholarships and tuition reimbursement.
Those efforts paid off as the number of people who graduated from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs more than doubled to 161,540 in 2010 from 72,986 in 2000, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing based in Washington.
The gains continued unabated even as the recession began in 2007 as nurses who had left the work force or were employed part-time returned to full-time work to shore up family finances, said Staiger.
As the economy improves, and the mostly married, female workforce quits, reduces working hours to part time or reaches retirement age, a shortage of nurses is expected again. The renewed need for nurses will hit just as demand for health care increases as more Americans gain medical insurance under provisions of the U.S. health-care law that goes into effect in 2014, Staiger said.