Shortage or Surplus? How To Keep Tabs on Nursing Workforce Projections

Just wait until all the nurse baby boomers retire.

That was the warning cry about the nursing workforce when reports such as “Nursing: Supply, Demand and Shortages through 2020” by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicted 1.6 million job openings back in 2015.

With a shortfall of nursing educators, there was loud concern about how the nursing workforce would keep up with the massive demand.

Four years later, the news is mixed about just how dire the shortage will be – or even if there will be a shortage at all.

Monitor nursing workforce trends

Montana State University College of Nursing Professor Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, is considered a pre-eminent nursing workforce expert. When Buerhaus talks about nursing’s future, people listen.

For all his expertise, even Buerhaus noted that “projecting the supply of nurses is not for the faint-hearted,” according to the Campaign for Action.

Buerhaus was among the many observers saying in the early 2000s a shortage would be imminent and impactful. He mentioned at the time that the U.S. would face a shortfall of 500,000 nurses by 2020.

Aggressive nursing initiatives to promote the profession have been one key factor in a turnaround in those numbers.

In late 2017, Buerhaus told the Campaign for Action that RN supply was in balance and a nationwide surplus of about 300,000 nurses could occur by 2030.

But he urged caution because of a number of rapidly changing factors, such as baby boomer nurses retiring. “There are way too many uncertainties that could blow any projected surplus away,” he said.

According to the latest BLS projections, RN employment is projected to grow 15% from 2016 to 2026. An increase in supply of new nurses, however, has led to more competition for RN jobs in some parts of the nation.

A matter of geography

According to many observers, where you live will depend on the impact nurses and recruiters feel from the nursing workforce roller coaster.

“The shortage will not hit all areas the same,” Arizona State University Clinical Assistant Professor Heidi Sanborn, DNP, RN, CNE, told HealthLeaders Media. “Some states are predicted to have a glut of nurses, so there will be no shortages at all. In some states, it is very regional.”

According to the July 2017 federal report Supply and Demand Projections of the Nursing Workforce: 2014-2030, substantial variation is ahead across the country.

  • For example, California (44,500), Texas (15,900), New Jersey (11,400) and South Carolina (10,400) will have the biggest nursing workforce shortages by 2030.
  • The biggest surplus states for nurses by 2030 are expected to be Florida (53,700), Ohio (49,100), Virginia (22,700) and New York (18,200).

How can you use this information to your advantage?

Remember that many active job seekers can be flexible when it comes to their next home, and relocation may be an attractive option. States most in need of nurses may need to offer unique recruitment perks, such as relocation assistance, housing allowances or sign-on bonuses.

When recruiting nurses from other areas, make sure you weigh your employment package offers against other career opportunities in your area to stay competitive.

If even Buerhaus occasionally can be befuddled by the nursing shortage/surplus, how can you keep up?

You have several options, including:

Google alerts: Set up an alert via Google for key terms or phrases related to the nursing workforce outlook. Some terms you could use include:

  • Peter Buerhaus
  • nursing shortage
  • nursing workforce projections

An alert can be set up to be delivered as often as you’d like. This way, any new journal articles, reports or projections are delivered to your inbox.

Check trusted sources: This includes organizations and associations who do a good job maintaining current workforce information and updates.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing: The AACN hosts a Nursing Shortage Fact Sheet on its website and updates the document regularly. The document currently contains numerous updates on the topic, dating back to 2003. AACN is a good source because it works with nursing schools across the country, media outlets, policy makers and nursing organizations to bring attention to the topic.
  • American Nurses Association: The organization has an array of experts plugged into the profession, including Peter McMenamin, a healthcare economist who recently said, “2 to 3 million (baby) boomers will age into Medicare every year for the next 30 years. That’s going to increase the demand for nurses.”
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: The federal government studies an array of professions, and it offers a wide array of statistical information to provide a unique picture of the nursing workforce.