Millennials Entering Nursing Could Ward Off Nursing Shortage Crisis

There is seldom any good news about nursing shortages, but a recent surprising finding showed that there is some hope for the future as a higher numbers of millennials enter the nursing profession compared to previous generations. This could ward off the severe nursing shortages anticipated with the looming retirement of the baby boomers and the more significant demand for nurses in the next couple of decades.

Women in the baby boomer generation, born in the period after World War II, were the first to enter the labor market and establish careers in large numbers, and nursing was one of the few options for the women of that generation. Between 1981 and 2012 they made up the most substantial portion of the nursing workforce, but these experienced nurses are now retiring. By the time generation X – those born between the 1960’s and the late 1970’s – were making their career choices a far more significant variety of job opportunities were available to women and fewer chose Nursing as a career.

A recent analysis of the nursing workforce in the United States found that the millennial generation, those born from around 1982 to 2000, were twice as likely to be registered nurses than even the baby boomers and 60% more likely that the generation X’ers. The study, published in Health Affairs, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 1979 to 2000 and the American Community Survey for 2001 to 2015. It was led by Dr. DI Auerbach of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at the College of Nursing, Montana State University.

The study found that in the year 2000, younger nurses numbered only around 400,000 and at the time there was considerable concern over a potentially critical shortage of nurses. “What we didn’t expect was this huge influx of millennials into the nursing workforce,” said Auerbach. By 2015, when the first millennials reached 33 years of age, there was double the number (834,000) of younger RN’s in nursing and by the 2020’s nursing will be dominated by the millennials.

So why are the millennials choosing Nursing? The study authors believed that there were probably various contributing factors. The millennials entered the job market at a time of economic uncertainty, following the Great Recession which started in 2007, and nursing offers a good likelihood of continuing employment opportunities and earnings stability. The millennials are also known to be socially conscious so that they often place meaningful work, where they can feel that they are making a difference, above earning potential. Education is vital to them, and so they also look for jobs which offer opportunities for further education and growth.

The implications of the findings of the nursing workforce study are that the number of nurses will continue to grow at around 1.3% per year until 2030 despite a large number of baby boomers who will be retiring during this period. This growth might however still not meet demand as the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration estimated that the demand for nurses would increase at around 1.5% annually between 2012 and 2025. However, it is still positive news that the numbers of millennials flowing into the nursing profession can be expected to compensate considerably for the baby boomers who are retiring.

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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