The Nursing Workforce in the USA

The nursing workforce is now larger in size, older, and more diverse.

The USA has more registered nurses (RNs) than ever before---just over 3 million---and the nursing workforce also is older, more diverse, and better educated. The Department of Health Resources and Services Administration, which collects this data, found that the RN workforce grew by 5.3% since 2004, when the last survey was conducted. Nursing workforce growth outpaced USA population growth, which was 3.8% during the same time period. The average age of the nurse is now 47 (compared to 45 in 2000) and almost half (45%) of RNs are now 50 or older. Most nurses (85%) work in the nursing field and 63% work full time.

Nurses now are better educated; 37% have bachelor’s degrees (up from 22% in 1980), and advanced degrees are more common. Thirteen percent of nurses hold master’s or doctorate degrees, up from 5% in 1980. Advanced degrees include degrees in fields other than nursing.

The nursing workforce is more diverse, although white women are still over-represented when compared to the general population; 83% of RNs are white, non-Hispanics (compared to 66% of the U.S. population). Men comprise just 6.6% of the nursing workforce, although that number is up from around 3% in 1980.

The USA has 854 nurses per 100,000 people, and this ratio varies by state. Utah has the fewest RNs (598 per 100,000 people) and the District of Columbia ha the most (1,868 per 100,000 people). A nursing shortage is expected within the next 10-15 years, and it’s predicted that 250,000 more nurses will be needed to care for older patients and increased numbers of patients who will receive health care as a result of health care reform.

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