September 11, 2017

What Happened To The Nursing Shortage?

What Happened To The Nursing Shortage?

By Amy Blitchok

Part of what makes nursing an attractive career path is high demand and job security. Again and again, studies have indicated that there is a high demand for qualified nurses across the country.

Theoretically, that would translate into more competitive compensation packages for sought-after assignments. However, there's a good chance you've found the job market more competitive than what your nursing instructors prepared you for and may be left wondering exactly what happened to the highly publicized nursing shortage.

The reality is that efforts by both nursing schools and federal and local governments to fill positions have resulted in a projected surplus of nurses in some states where a shortage was once predicted.

In December of 2014, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) released a report on the future of the nursing workforce.

At that time, 34 states were expected to have a shortage of nurses for a total deficit of 808,000 nurses across the United States by the year 2025. In just three years, those numbers have changed dramatically.

As of  2017, only 7 states are expected to have deficits while the country as a whole will have a total surplus of around 340,000. These new projections completely change the landscape of nursing in America and what new and potential nurses can expect as they hit the job market.

Click here for a comprehensive listing of projected nursing demand by state.

How Experts Reached These Projections

Experts projected that initial shortage based on a wide variety of factors. They looked at the number of students and typical graduation rates, as well as the likelihood of a massive increase in demand. The Baby Boomer generation, in particular, is expected to require more medical care as they continue to reach retirement age over the coming years and enjoy longer life expectancies due to advances in healthcare. 

Another factor was a notable percentage of nurses reaching retirement themselves and/or cutting back to part-time hours. However, as those who work in the healthcare profession are well aware, nurses are working well past typical retirement ages. Take 91-year-old Florence Rigney who continues to work at Tacoma General Hospital in Washington. While she is certainly a shining example of professional passion and longevity, stories like hers are becoming more common as people choose a more active “retirement.”

The Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) also threw a wrench in more accurately pinpointing the nursing supply and demand estimates. Some argued that extending coverage to more 17 million additional Americans would significantly increase the demand for nurses as more people felt comfortable about being able to afford care.

On the other side, some made the argument that increased access to preventative care would actually improve overall health and lead to fewer demands on the healthcare system.

There really was no way to definitively predict how the ACA will ultimately affect the field of nursing.  

Finally, the predictions from three years ago failed to take into account nurse migration. The numbers from the HRSA report were based on the assumption that nurses would continue to work in the locations where they attended school.

As a result, the numbers from the most recent study look completely different both a national and a state level. For example, in 2014, Indiana had a deficit of 20,200 nurses. Just three years later, the state has a surplus of 14,000 RNs.

With a shortage of nurses looming and set to be the law of the land until 2030, nursing schools and federal and local governments took steps to recruit both students and instructors. Combine these efforts with several predictions that didn’t come to bear and a study that was plagued by limitations and you have a current job market is characterized by a nursing surplus. 

What This Means for Nurses

First and foremost, don’t panic. If there is any lesson to be learned from the release of these two reports, it is that even data-driven prediction models are not perfect. In addition, it is likely that the projected shortfall has simply been delayed.

For example, with a healthier and more stable economy, nurses who put off retirement for financial reasons may now feel comfortable about leaving the profession. 

Secondly, while the nursing shortage won’t be quite as extensive as predicted in the near future, there are still states that will need qualified nurses to fill positions. The latest report from the HRSA was released in July 2017 and includes projections through 2030. 

Based on updated information, here are the states with the highest projected future demand for nurses.

5. Alaska

# of Nurses in AK by 2030: 18,400

Projected Demand: 23,800

Difference: -5,400 (shortage)

Average RN Salary: $88,510

Average Hourly: $40.01

Nursing Jobs: Advance your career in Alaska. See 215 open nursing positions now.


4. South Carolina

# of Nurses in SC by 2030: 52,100

Projected Demand: 62,500

Difference: -10,400 (shortage)

Average RN Salary: $61,110

Average Hourly: $29.32

Nursing Jobs: South Carolina needs nurses like you. 


3. New Jersey

# of Nurses in NJ by 2030: 90,800

Projected Demand: 102,200

Difference: -11,400 (shortage)

Average RN Salary: $79,840

Average Hourly: $38.36

Nursing Jobs: New Jersey needs nurses like you. 

2. Texas

# of Nurses in TX by 2030: 253,400

Projected Demand: 269,300

Difference: -15,900 (shortage)

Average RN Salary: $68,890

Average Hourly: $33.02


1. California

# of Nurses in CA by 2030: 343,400

Projected Demand: 387,900

Difference: -44,500 (shortage)

Average RN Salary: $101,260

Average Hourly: $48.30

Click here for a complete listing of HRSA's nursing workforce projections.

As you can see, the list of the top five states that will experience the greatest demand for nurses over the coming years is scattered all over the country. The fact that there is not a centralized need, provides greater choice for nurses who are willing to relocate in order to find the best positions and provide underserved areas with the right skills and experience. 

In the long-term, nursing still represents a stable and lucrative career path. As with any other job, the field of nursing is subject to economic trends, legislative changes and a wide variety of other variables.

The HRSA predictions may look quite different just three years later, but new nurses who are just entering the job market simply need to be patient or even consider moving to a state with more demand. 

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