Long-Term Job Outlook for Nurses is Sunny, as Experts Project Nation Will Need More than One Million New Nurses by 2022

    • May 19, 2014

Jobs may still be difficult to find for some new college graduates, but nursing grads can take heart from long-term projections that show they have one of the hottest degrees there is.

More than half a million positions for registered nurses (RNs) are projected to open up between 2012 and 2022, according to data released in January by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Only one other profession—personal care aides—is projected to add more jobs between 2012 and 2022, according to a BLS employment-outlook ranking.

During this period, the RN workforce is expected to grow from 2.7 million to 3.2 million—an increase of 526,800 jobs. An additional 525,000 nurses will be needed to replace those who leave the field, bringing the total number of new openings to more than 1 million by 2022. The data were published by the BLS in the latest edition of its Occupational Outlook Handbook. Licensed practical and vocational nurses also landed in a list of the occupations poised for the largest growth between 2012 and 2022.

“It’s very exciting,” said Judy Beal, DNSc, RN, FAAN, dean and professor at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Simmons College in Boston and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program (2008-2011). “The outlook is looking very good.”

Demand for RNs is projected to surge thanks to an aging population that is living longer, but sicker, and in greater need of nursing care; growing rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity; and an increased emphasis on preventative care, according to the BLS. In addition, millions more people have new access to health care under the Affordable Care Act, which will also fuel demand for nursing services, experts say.

Jobs for advanced practice registered nurses are projected to grow at a faster clip than RN jobs, reports the BLS. Nearly 50,000 more positions for nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are expected to open up by 2022. That is a 31 percent jump over the number of positions in 2012. RN jobs, by contrast, are poised to grow 19 percent over the same period. The average growth rate for all occupations is 11 percent.

“Nursing is always a marketable degree,” said Suzanne Prevost, PhD, RN, dean and professor at the Capstone College of Nursing at the University of Alabama and an alumna of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program (2009-2012). “During my 34 years in the profession, I have seen several cycles of shortage and oversupply. Even during the years of oversupply, plenty of options remain for nurses who demonstrate competence, a commitment to lifelong learning, and responsiveness to the needs of patients, families, and our health care system.”

Competitive Market

That’s not to say that employers are lining up to snap up every nurse with a new degree.

The job market is still tough in some parts of the country as a result of the recent recession, which led to hiring freezes at some hospitals and prompted some nurses to put off retirement to compensate for lost income from laid-off family members or shrinking retirement accounts.

“I have worked in the South, in Kentucky and Alabama, for the past six years,” Prevost said. “In this region, we have experienced a sustained healthy job market for new graduate nurses. For many of my colleagues in New England and on the West Coast, new graduates are having significantly more challenges in securing employment.”

That said, nurse employers in Alabama are selective in who they hire, Prevost added. “New graduates must seriously engage in a competitive interview process, compared to years of more intense nursing shortages when new graduates had their choice of many available positions. We also see a clear and increasing preference for baccalaureate preparation for entry-level jobs, as well as nursing leadership opportunities.”

The nursing job market in the Boston metropolitan area, meanwhile, has not fully recovered from the economic downturn, Beal said. “We’re beginning to recover, but we’re not there yet. In other parts of the country there are huge shortages of nurses. It depends where you are.”

But jobs are becoming easier to find in Boston than they were at the height of the recession, Beal said. “In 2008 and 2009, it was very difficult for some of our graduates to get jobs. In recent years, our graduates have been very successful in securing employment within one year of graduation.”

The outlook is especially good for nurses with bachelor’s degrees in nursing (BSNs) and higher, according to study released in November 2013 by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Nearly 60 percent of 2012 BSN graduates had job offers at the time of graduation, compared with almost 30 percent of 2012 graduates across all professions, the study found. Nurses graduating with master’s degrees were even more likely to land jobs at the time of graduation, the AACN survey found.

Studies have linked higher nurse education levels with improved patient outcomes, and the future of nursing report, released in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), called for 80 percent of nurses to hold bachelor’s degrees or higher by 2020. A national campaign backed by RWJF and AARP is working to implement that and other IOM recommendations.

“Despite concerns about new college graduates finding employment in today’s tight job market, graduates of baccalaureate nursing programs are finding positions at a significantly higher rate than the national average,” Jane Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, immediate past president of AACN and dean and professor of the University of Maryland School of Nursing, said in a November news release. Kirschling is also an alumna of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program (2000-2003).

More employers, meanwhile, are requiring nurses to have baccalaureate degrees and higher, the AACN study found. In 2013, 44 percent of hospitals and other health care settings required new nurses to have BSNs, up almost 5 percent since 2012. And 79 percent of employers are expressing a strong preference from BSN-prepared graduates.

“As more practice settings move to require higher levels of education for their registered nurses, we expect the demand for BSN-prepared nurses to remain strong as nurse employers seek to raise quality standards and meet consumer expectations for safe patient care,” Kirschling said.