Researchers Examine the Reasons for the Declining U.S. Nursing Workforce

Developing a comprehensive volume on the nursing care workforce shortage

From 1996 to 2003, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, Mass., explored how the aging of the population of registered nurses (RNs) and the growth of managed care have reshaped the nursing work force in the United States.

Key Findings

  • The researchers reported their findings in 11 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Among their key findings were that:

    • The average age of working nurses increased 4.5 years (from 37.7 to 41.9 years) between 1983 and 1998. The primary factor leading to the aging RN work force is the decline during the previous two decades in young women choosing nursing as a career.
    • Beginning in the early 1990s, RNs experienced stagnant wage growth as well as a small but steady shift toward employment in lower-paying nonhospital settings, particularly in home health care.
    • Some hospital specialty areas, including intensive care units and operating rooms, are already experiencing shortages of nursing personnel.
    • Despite the addition of nearly 185,000 hospital RNs since 2001, the recent growth in employment among nurses is likely to be temporary.