Number of registered nurses grows as professionals delay retirement

Despite debate about the validity of a nursing shortage, the number of registered nurses across the country continues to rise, reaching 2.7 million in 2012 and growing even more since then, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

The RAND Corporation found that the number of nurses surpassed the predicted 2.2 million in 2012, in part because of roughly 136,000 nurses who delayed retirement because of economic uncertainty, the study suggests. Lead author David Auerbach told Kaiser Health News researchers also "found RNs were especially attached to the mission of what they do. … They get a lot of satisfaction from their job and don't want to leave it."

Between 1969 and 1990, about 47 percent of nurses still worked by age 62 and 9 percent still worked at age 69. However those percentages increased from 1991 to 2012, with 74 percent of nurses working at 62 and 24 percent working at age 69, according to the study. This could create a problem for new nursing grads, who may struggle more than their past counterparts to find a job, Auerbach said.

With an aging workforce that tend to leave the hospital setting as they grow older, accountable care organizations will hire many nurses to help in coordinated care and chronic care management teams, researchers said. "The kind of managing and planning and coordinating and triaging that RNs are able to do help with what an ACO is trying to do," Auerbach told KHN. "And that is be more efficient about care and increased access."

Although many nurses extend their careers, about 118,000 nurses will stop working full-time between 2010 and 2015, with about one-third of the nursing workforce more than 50 years old, FierceHealthcare previously reported. That same ratio of nurses will likely retire within the next 10 to 15 years, leaving a less experienced workforce. This, combined with America's aging population seeking health treatment, means more nurses will need to step into jobs, as well as leadership and teaching positions

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the article