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Changes in the Nursing Workforce

Every two years, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing partners with National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers to conduct a national nursing workforce study. The purpose is to obtain an updated picture of the nursing field. One reason why NCSBN conducts this survey every two years is to verify there are enough prepared nurses to meet the healthcare system’s current needs.

More than 78,000 nurses have responded in the latest study. Here are the highlights:

  • More than half of RNs are age 50 or older.
  • Male RNs make up 14 percent of the nursing workforce.
  • Almost 20 percent of RNs identify as racial or ethnic minorities.
  • For 65 percent of RNs, the highest level of education is a baccalaureate or higher degree.
  • More than 40 percent of RNs earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or higher degree as an initial credential.
  • The median salary for female RNs is $64,000; it is $72,000 for male RNs.
  • Approximately 31 percent have used telehealth technology for patient care.

The latest survey brings up a few points that affect the nursing profession.

More RNs Obtaining BSNs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of licensed nurses will exceed 3 million by 2024. The occupational employment data also states that the typical education necessary for entry into the nursing field is a bachelor’s degree.

Growing evidence indicates a preference for nurses with a BSN or higher degree :

  • A landmark study from the National Academy of Medicine, formerly known as the Institute of Medicine, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommends increasing the number of nurses with baccalaureate degrees from 50 percent in 2010 to 80 percent by 2020.
  • As of 2015, 65 percent of nurses have earned a baccalaureate or higher degree, according to NCBSN — halfway to the 80 percent by 2020 goal.
  • NAM’s study has spurred the Campaign for Action, which promotes five education models to help nurses continue working while earning a degree.
  • A survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that more than 77 percent of employers prefer to hire RNs with a BSN.

The increasing complexity and developing technologies of healthcare now require nurses to have more varied knowledge bases and skill sets. Seventy million Baby Boomers, who have more complex chronic and degenerative medical conditions, are entering their senior years. A shortage of physicians also demands that nurses assume larger roles in healthcare.

Many Nurses Will Retire Within 10 Years

In “The 4 Forces That Will Reshape Nursing,” Peter Bauerhaus, healthcare economist and professor of nursing, notes that the nursing workforce expects one-third of its nurses to retire within 10 years — something that has never happened before.

Due to these impending retirements, the workforce has to fill a huge knowledge gap. This factor is one of several driving the need for more education. One way to help with the knowledge gap is for newer nurses to work with experienced nurses before they retire.

Increasing Diversity in Nursing

To more closely match the U.S. population, the Campaign for Action aims to increase diversity in the nursing workforce. One of the Campaign for Action’s goals is as follows: “A diverse nursing workforce that more closely reflects the nation’s population is better able to partner with communities to build a Culture of Health. Increasing the number of nurses from different backgrounds, including various races and ethnicities, will contribute to better health and health care for all.”

The Campaign for Action reports that about 30 percent of students at the baccalaureate or higher level program identify as African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or Alaskan native. According to the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice, a more diverse nursing workforce can reduce health disparities and increase access to quality care.

Furthermore, AACN’s “Enhancing Diversity in the Workforce,” says that communities value public health nurses who know their community or culture.

The Growth of Telemedicine

Half of the nursing workforce has yet to use telemedicine technology, but those who have say it takes from 1 to 25 percent of their time. This number will likely grow due to faster internet connections, widely available devices and changing insurance requirements.

According to “How Telemedicine Is Transforming Health Care,” more than half of physician groups and 72 percent of hospitals have telemedicine programs. Moreover, 74 percent of large employers offer telemedicine benefits. More than 15 million Americans have received healthcare remotely, as reported by the American Telemedicine Association.

These four themes are connected. Earning a BSN or higher degree will prepare nurses for new technologies and telemedicine, more challenging health conditions and greater leadership roles.

Nurses can take four simple actions to improve health and healthcare in the U.S.: Enroll in an RN to BSN program, shadow experienced RNs, diversify the nursing workforce and learn about telemedicine.

Learn about the Lamar University online RN to BSN program.


Hospitals & Health Networks: The 4 Forces that Will Reshape Nursing

National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice: Achieving Health Equity through Nursing Workforce Diversity

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment, Job Openings and Worker Characteristics

Campaign for Action: Transforming Nursing Education

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Enhancing Diversity in the Workforce

The Wall Street Journal: How Telemedicine Is Transforming Health Care

National Council of State Boards of Nursing: National Nursing Workforce Study

The National Academy Press: The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

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