Nursing Shortage in America: What You’ll Need to Know in 2019

nursing shortage

Among all occupations nationwide, registered nurses (RNs) represent one of the three career paths that is expected to see the most significant amount of new job openings by 2026. More than 438,000 new RN jobs are projected to be added to the workforce within that time frame, surging from approximately 2.7 million jobs to 3.2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1

And there’s more to consider than just the net-new nursing jobs—every year, thousands of baby boomer nurses retire and new nurses are needed to replace them. These figures factor into one of the biggest stories in healthcare: a nationwide nursing shortage. So what does that mean for you?

Join us as we analyze the facts surrounding each phase of the longstanding demand for additional qualified nurses in the U.S., and learn more about the role you could play as we begin taking steps to strengthen and replenish our nursing workforce.

The nursing shortage in the United States

Take a look at the following nursing shortage statistics to learn more about the causes and effects of this disparity in the largest subset of American healthcare workers. 

Where demand for nurses hits hardest

As we mentioned, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow substantially—but this demand for nurses isn’t necessarily spread evenly across the country. Some American states, particularly in warmer climates, will be hit harder than others.

According to a report from Moody’s Investors Services, the southern and western U.S. will be impacted more heavily by the nursing shortage than the rest of the country, with the highest prevalence in Georgia, Florida, Texas and California. The latter three states alone are predicted to account for nearly 40 percent of the nursing shortfall nationwide.2

It’s also true that the nursing shortage will most adversely impact rural hospitals, since many urban hospitals benefit from their close proximity to nursing schools and sturdier local economies that boast more opportunities for the families of healthcare workers.

Causes of the nursing shortage

One large driver of the nursing shortage is the aging population in America. In 2014, the U.S. was home to 46 million people age 65 or older, and that number is projected to grow dramatically in the near term, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Between 2020 and 2030, this population of Americans is projected to increase by 18 million as the last of the baby boomer cohort reaches retirement age.3

These aging boomers present two related issues. First, among that group of aging Americans are hundreds of thousands of practicing RNs on the verge of retirement who will need replacing. Equally important is the fact that many diseases or conditions that were once terminal have since become survivable due to medical and technological advancements. As a result, Americans are living longer and are requiring more medical attention later into their lives.

Another factor straining the nursing labor force has been a lack of educational bandwidth to train new nurses. According to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report on 2016–17 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, schools in the U.S. turned away 64,067 qualified nursing applicants due to insufficient faculty, clinical sites, classroom space and funding.4 It takes a nurse to train a nurse, and this glut of retirements doesn’t spare the critical nurse educators who are bringing the next generation of nurses up to speed.

Effects of the nursing shortage

An obvious impact of the nursing shortage is the heightened nurse-to-patient ratios that inevitably take place when a unit is short-staffed. This can have adverse effects on the quality of a nurse’s professional life, often leading to nursing burnout—a leading motivator for practicing nurses who choose to leave the profession.

Contrary to what you might think, even non-nurses can feel the residual effects of nurse burnout. The AACN reports that 75 percent of surveyed RNs believe the nursing shortage impacts both the quality of their work life and the quality of patient care—and the facts support this.4

Patients in environments in which nurses are stretched thin are more likely to be readmitted after 30 days of first being seen, and are even at a higher risk of hospital-acquired infection. Conversely, higher nurse staffing levels have been correlated with fewer patient deaths, fewer failure-to-rescue incidents, lower rates of infection and shorter hospital stays.

Nursing shortage solutions

Many agree that addressing the imminent nursing shortage in the U.S. must begin with enabling the thousands of aspiring nurses to begin their careers—which will only be possible with more educators in nursing programs to cope with the demand. With this in mind, several statewide initiatives have been put into motion to offer incentives like fellowships and loan forgiveness for future nurse faculty who commit to teach within that state after obtaining their degrees.

In addition to government programs that incentivize the training of new nurses, healthcare organizations can implement short-term solutions to help prevent burnout and turnover among the current nursing workforce. This can be done by reviewing internal policies for productivity, better utilizing medical assistants as appropriate and more effectively implementing technology to improve efficiency.

Additional incentives from employers can also help with retention, such as offering paid training opportunities, student loan reimbursement, more comprehensive compensation packages and increased opportunities for internal advancement. Solutions like these are not only important for the wellbeing of nurses, but also for the bottom line of the healthcare facilities—after all, it costs a lot of money to recruit and train new nurses.

Could you help fill the gap in nursing?

Are you in search of a career that allows you to do important, challenging work that you’ll feel good doing? Becoming a nurse is an excellent option. After all, it’s not just that the work is fulfilling. The state of the nursing workforce in America provides a prime opportunity for you—health providers are facing a growing need for skilled, compassionate nurses.  

Making the decision to pursue nursing is the first step in your journey toward career success, but now you’re faced with your next important determination: What kind of nurse do you want to be? As you begin your research, it can be helpful to know of the hiring hotspots in the nursing world. Learn more by checking out our article, Top 25 Types of Nurses Employers Are Looking to Hire.”


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed August 24, 2018] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/most-new-jobs.htm

2 Moody’s Investors Service, Not-for-profit and public healthcare: US: Nursing shortage will pressure hospital margins over the next three to four years, [information accessed August 24, 2018] https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-Nursing-shortage-will-persist-until-2025-weakening-US-NFP--PR_380467

3 Population Reference Bureau, Population Bulletin: Aging in the United States, [information accessed August 24, 2018] https://www.prb.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/aging-us-population-bulletin-1.pdf

4 American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage Fact Sheet, [information accessed August 24, 2018] http://www.aacnnursing.org/News-Information/Fact-Sheets/Nursing-Shortage

Jess Scherman

Jess is a Content Specialist at Collegis Education. She researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College to help empower students to achieve their career dreams through higher education.

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