Analysis: Nurse force to grow 36% by 2030, thanks to millennials

Dive Brief:

  • Millennials are becoming registered nurses at nearly twice the rate of baby boomers, but that still won’t necessarily prevent a nursing shortage as boomers retire, a new analysis in Health Affairs concludes.
  • The number of younger RNs nearly doubled to 834,000 in 2015, after dropping to 440,000 in 2000 when Generation Xers were joining the workforce.
  • The number of millennials entering the space has leveled off recently, however, suggesting only modest growth over the next decade. Still, millennials will dominate the nurse workforce in the 2020s, the article says.

Dive Insight:

The average age of the nursing workforce in 2005 was 44, spurring widespread predictions of a nursing shortage as baby boomers retired from the field, according to the authors.

They attribute millennials’ embrace of nursing to several factors. The profession offers stable lifetime earnings and low unemployment as well as opportunities for advancement and relocation. And it can be parlayed in myriad ways across the healthcare industry.

“Considering the acceleration in retirement of the baby boomers and the stabilization of the entering cohort sizes among millennials, we expect the nurse workforce to grow 36%, to just over four million RNs, between 2015 and 2030, a rate of 1.3% annual per capita growth,” the authors write. “This is a rate of per capita growth similar to that observed from 1979 to 2000, but half the rate observed in the rapid-growth years of 2000-15.”

Whether that growth rate is enough to meet demand as baby boomer nurses retire is hard to gauge.

While nursing may be enjoying a surge in popularity, as professions go, retention is a growing problem. In a recent Medscape poll, about one in five nurses said they would not make the same career choice again. Nurses with more than 21 years in the profession were more likely to be dissatisfied than those who were new to the practice.

To retain nurses, hospitals need to provide opportunities for upward mobility and changing roles. They also need to address clinician burnout associated with increasing regulatory and administrative tasks. Allowing nurses to practice at the top of their licenses can also increase workplace satisfaction — not to mention helping address the problem of physician burnout.

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