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​Study Finds RN Workforce Shrank 2% During Pandemic

A study published in Health Affairs found a 1.8 percent decline in the number of registered nurses in the US during the pandemic. This contradicts previous projections that RNs would increase 4.4 percent from 2019 to 2021. Most concerning to researchers was the reduction in nurses under the age of 35.

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The recent article titled “Worrisome Drop in the Number of Young Nurses” says that the Unites States has enjoyed steady growth in the registered nurse (RN) workforce since the 1970’s, providing the backbone of the nations growing and evolving health care delivery systems.  RNs represented 1 percent of the US population in 2020. Today, the number of per capita RNs in the US is either on par with or higher than most other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, in contrast with the number of physicians, which is among the lowest of these nations.

Now, two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply of RNs is under threat. Using monthly data from the Current Population Survey, our recently published analyses in Health Affairs showed that growth in the RN workforce plateaued during the first 15 months of the pandemic. Although it is difficult to disentangle the contributing factors, these likely include early retirements, pandemic burnout and frustration, interrupted work patterns from family needs such as childcare and elder care, COVID-19 infection and related staffing shortages, and other disruptions throughout health care delivery organizations. Extending that analysis through the end of 2021 furthers our concern. New data here, covering the entirety of 2021, show the total supply of RNs decreased by more than 100,000 in one year—a far greater drop than ever observed over the past four decades.

A recent Medscape survey found that 40 percent of RNs said COVID-19 had negatively impacted their career satisfaction, 25 percent said they would not choose to be an RN if they could do it all over again, and 15 percent of those said they would leave the profession in three years. A 2021 survey of the general public also conducted by our team showed a decrease in the public’s willingness to “definitely” recommend a nursing career to a family member compared to an earlier survey. The concern about recommending a nursing career to a family member was highest among adults ages 30–49 who are parents. On a positive note, interest among young adults ages 18–29 was still steady, and prior research by our team showed that times of natural disaster or health crisis could increase interest in RN careers. All survey data in these changing times can be volatile.

To read the full article from Health Affairs, click here.

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