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The nursing workforce is key to tackling the problems our health care system faces. Yet to harness the power of the nursing profession, the optimum conditions must first be established, uniting nurses in fulfilling their potential.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) advocates for health care reform which recognizes the true value of nursing and empowers individual nurses to lead change within their own organizations. For 18 years, nursing has ranked highest in the Gallup poll of honesty and ethical standards; so it’s clear that the public trust nurses to lead health care change.

While there are great challenges ahead in relation to staffing levels, this is an exciting time for nursing; where the 4 million Registered Nurses (RN) in the U.S. have the opportunity to work together to lay solid foundations for the future of health care.

The nursing shortage

Without decisive action, nurses will practice under increased stress. As the health care system is strained by an aging population and broadened access to public health care, it will be nurses that feel the weight of patient responsibility on their shoulders.

By 2022, there will be far more registered nurse jobs available than any other profession, at more than 100,000 per year. With more than 500,000 seasoned RNs anticipated to retire by 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 1.1 million new RNs for expansion and replacement of retirees, and to avoid a nursing shortage.

Over the past decade, the average age of employed RNs has increased by nearly two years, from 42.7 years in 2000 to 44.6 years in 2010. These factors, combined with an anticipated strengthening of the economy, will create a renewed critical shortage for nurses.

Opportunities for nurses

To address the changing patient demographics and its demands on the health care system, it will be essential to expand certain practice areas. This offers nurses the prospect of increased employment, and the opportunity to lead positive change for patients in vital specialties.

Driving opportunities for RNs include:

  • The Affordable Care Act is increasing access to health care services for more individuals;
  • Reform initiatives are increasing emphasis on primary care, prevention, wellness, and chronic disease management;
  • Baby Boomers are swelling the Medicare rolls;
  • Community-based care is growing; and
  • Specialties, such as geriatrics, informatics, and care coordinators, are blossoming.

The fastest growth for RNs’ employment is projected in the West and Mountain states and the slowest growth is anticipated in the Northeast and Midwest. But in every state, growth is projected at 11% or more annually through 2022.

To find the right job for you, visit the ANA Careers Center, for connections with the best nursing employers and thousands of opportunities to explore:

Search Nursing Jobs

Thinking of a career change to nursing?

Nursing offers a career that is both personally gratifying and financially rewarding. 

Learn more about nursing and how to embark on a nursing career.

If you are already a nurse, but ready for a change of pace, you may be interested in exploring options for nurse faculty.

Learn more about options for nurse faculty

Consequences for nurses

While the nursing shortage presents opportunities for nurses, there are potential negative implications, too. Nurses often need to work long hours under stressful conditions, which can result in fatigue, injury, and job dissatisfaction. 

Through increased pressure, nurses practicing in these environments are more prone to making mistakes and errors, with patient quality suffering. For these reasons and more, ANA is dedicated to improving the workplace safety for all nurses. 

Read more about ANA’s work on improving workplace safety

Nursing Shortage Legislation and Strategies

ANA advocates for nurses at the highest level, to ensure that the voice of 3.6 million registered nurses is heard by policymakers. ANA lobbies both houses of Congress, as well as the federal agencies, on policies and legislation to bolster the number of RNs and nurse faculty.

Find out the latest on nurse staffing issues on Capitol Hill

Detailed resources on the nursing workforce

  • ANA’s Nurses by the Numbers
  • Title VIII (Nursing Workforce Development) Funding and the RN National Licensure Exam  In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson enacted the Nurse Training Act (Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act), which has provided educational opportunities, career paths, loans, grants, and scholarships for generations of nurses. Congress’ annual Title VIII funding allocation has been closely associated with the development of new nurses. For example, from 1990 to 2000, when funding averaged $60 million, about 118,000 took the nursing exam (NCLEX) annually. From 2001 to 2013, when funding increased by an average of more than $100 million in real dollars annually, the number of exam takers jumped to about 172,000 annually.
  • Fast Facts: 2014 Nursing Workforce Find details about nursing job growth and salaries by region and practice level; demographics of the workforce; new graduates’ job-seeking results; and nursing school capacity and faculty shortages.
  • Nursing Job Growth and Salaries by State (2013). Where will the most new nursing jobs be located in the future? What states have the highest growth rates for nursing employment? Where can RNs expect the highest salaries? Find out in this state-by-state chart, with figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Employment and Compensation Estimates for RNs and Selected APRNs, 2013, USA Total and States
  • Nursing Salaries in the Top 50 Metro Areas Of the U.S.’s 50 largest metro areas, the top five for RNs’ median salary are in California. Nineteen of the top 20 are in the West or Northeast. Of the bottom 25, 13 are in the South and 9 in the Midwest/Central.
  • RN Retirements – Tsunami Warning
  • ANA Health Economist Peter McMenamin, PhD, asks “It’s 2022 – Where have all the nurses gone?” This mini-report/blog post outlines how the nursing workforce pipeline has evolved over 50 years and warns of the anticipated acceleration of RN retirements.
  • Charts and Tables of RN and APRN Employment Data. ANA’s Health Economist Peter McMenamin constructed these charts and tables from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Learn how your state compares to national averages.
  • Nurse Staffing
  • Nursing License Map is a simple guide to nursing licensure in your state, helping you to advance your nursing career.

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