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A nursing crisis averted?

at 04:10 PM ET, 12/05/2011

About a decade ago, there was a rash of reports predicting an impending nursing shortage. The warnings came from the Government Accountability Organization, Journal of American Medical Association and elsewhere, all with a pretty similar conclusion: There just weren’t enough nurses to serve a growing population.

“Providers from around the country are reporting growing difficulty recruiting and retaining the number of nurses needed in a range of settings,” the GAO found in a 2001 report.

Two studies published this afternoon in the journal Health Affairs present a more nuanced picture: While we may actually have enough nurses to keep up with the growing population, they may not be in all the right places.

The first study, lead by RAND’s David Auerbach, finds that the supply of nurses is actually growing faster than expected, lead by an increase in young people entering the profession. He finds a recent surge in the number of nurses in their early 20s:

This surge means that the number of nurses will likely keep pace with the growing population, quite the opposite of what health policy researchers were predicting a decade ago. “Instead of declining in absolute and per capita terms as previously projected, the nurse workforce is now projected to grow at roughly the same rate as the population through 2030,” the study concludes.

But, much like doctors, that increase may not be distributed equally across the country. The second Health Affairs study finds nurses to be more likely to practice near their hometown, where they went to high school, than virtually any other profession. This was particularly true for nurses who received a diploma in nursing or an associate degree, as opposed to a bachelor’s:

With nurses generally staying in their home states, this data suggests that our nursing shortage could be a regional one (like what we see with doctors), with some parts of the country — particularly those with fewer nursing schools — more affected than others.

 
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