NOTE: This post has been updated with our most recent 2009 completions data. Also see this even more updated post on other issues and data involved with analyzing registered nursing.
As we mentioned in a recent post, determining demand for health care workers is far from a clear-cut process. And it gets even messier when you focus solely on registered nurses.
There are a host of factors to consider when trying to balance the supply and demand of nurses. On one hand, we know that nursing has been in very high demand as a result of an aging population, very high turnover rates, and an ever-increasing number of nursing specialties. On the other hand, the U.S. has had an extremely high output of nurses from all sorts of public and private institutions to meet this growing demand. So we have been wondering, is it possible that we are actually over-training for registered nurses?
We were prompted to do a bit of digging about this after reading an interesting article at MinnEcon, a Minnesota Public Radio-run blog on the state’s economy. Paul Tosto, the article’s author, posed a very pertinent question, not just for Minnesota but for every other state too: What’s the right number of nurses?
At the current rate, the market is producing more nursing grads than the system needs. [Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system] data show “the total supply of new nurse graduates at the professional-level (RN) from both public and private institutions has increased over the past nine years. In 2008 it reached 2,800.”
The state Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates about 2,340 openings for registered nurses each year between 2006 -2016.
Another group, Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., projects a need for about 2,577 nurses a year through 2019, according to MnSCU.
Between the two estimates, Minnesota schools are producing 9 to 19 percent more nurses than the state’s projected to need.
Those are the numbers for Minnesota. But what about the rest of the US? We used Analyst to run a comparative state-level analysis between the number of registered nurses completions for the 2008-09 academic year and projected annual openings for RNs through 2015. This gives a rough estimate of supply (graduates) and demand (openings).
Note that annual openings are the sum of new and replacement jobs (those expected as a result of turnover) from 2010-15, divided by the number of years in our projection.[table "6" not found /]
In every state but Alaska and Nevada, there’s projected to be an excess of registered nurses in each of the next five years. In some of the most heavily populated states — Florida, Pennsylvania, New York — the oversupply is especially noticeable. Pennsylvania, for example, is projected to need just over 4,000 nurses each year in our projection. Yet it produced 10,549 RNs in 2008-09.
In 2008-09, the difference between the number of new nurses that graduated nationally and the number of estimated open nursing positions was nearly 86,000 — that’s 86,000 more nursing grads than nursing jobs.
Now, clearly the situation in most areas isn’t as out of whack as the numbers suggest: most graduates seem to end up with jobs, and there are still lots of job postings for RNs and other more specialized nurses.
There are other issues to consider as well:
- The completers information from IPEDs is subject to fluctuations and possible double-counting.
- As the Minnesota article outlined, there seems to be a growing percentage of RNs who opt to work part time over full time.
- And it’s quite likely, as is the case in Minnesota, that many more people are seeking two-year nursing degrees over four-year (or bachelor’s) nursing degrees.
We’ll take a more in-depth look at these factors in future weeks. But for now, we’re curious to hear your thoughts about the output and supply of nurses. Feel free to comment below, or if you’d like to see these numbers for your specific region, email Josh Wright at email@example.com or call 208.883.3500.