Why States Need to Build Better Nursing Workforce Data Systems

The Issue: Efforts to create state-level nursing workforce data systems are frequently hindered by a lack of funding, organizational barriers, and analytical challenges. This first brief, in a series of three, provides useful tips and resources on the need and justification for a nursing workforce data system. 

Why It Matters:

  • Policy makers with basic questions about the current and future supply, distribution, diversity, and demand  for nurses are often frustrated by the lack of timely, robust, and comprehensive data.
  • The aging of the population; increased prevalence of chronic disease; expansion of health insurance  coverage; and the rapid growth of new models of care will likely increase the demand for nursing services  and create new roles for nurses.
  • The National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN), previously the foremost data source on the demographics, location and practice behaviors of the US nursing workforce, has been discontinued. Efforts to create a national nursing workforce database, including the development of a Minimum Data Set (MDS) by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and National Council of State Boards of Nursing, have put increased pressure on states to collect a common set of data elements that can be aggregated into a new, national nursing workforce dataset.

Key Findings

  • One barrier to building better state nursing data systems is convincing policymakers, funders, stakeholders, and the various agencies who hold nursing data that the shared benefits of a state-wide data system outweigh an organization’s individual costs to develop and collectively maintain it.  

  • Most policy levers affecting the nursing workforce are at the state-level and nursing labor markets are local. Rather than relying on anecdotes, basic nursing workforce data are essential to provide evidence to justify funding requests, influence nursing education program planning, inform regulatory policies, identify shortage areas, and forecast employment needs.  

  • Due to the absence of workforce data, the nursing community often lacks the evidence needed to influence key policy decisions that affect the profession’s future. 

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To support interdisciplinary studies that address critical knowledge gaps regarding causal linkages between nursing and health care quality and to synthesize, translate, and disseminate major findings to key stakeholders.

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