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ANA Health Care Economist Peter McMenamin on the Nursing Shortage Outlook

ANA Health Economist Peter McMenamin, PhD, discusses the impact of current and future job market conditions on the nursing shortage.

Q. Did hospitals pull back on hiring during the recession? 

Peter McMenamin: No. What has happened is that mature nurses have been deferring their retirements. There have been approximately 140,000 new nurses passing the certifying exam for registered nurses every year. We estimated a couple of years ago that 73,000 nurses left the workforce every year. So, new graduates are getting squeezed now. Hospitals have the luxury of being choosy.

But I think why the job prospects are good is there's a big chunk of nurses who got their initial degree in the '70s. They represent 40 percent or more of employed nurses, and they can't defer retirement forever. What's going to happen as the recovery kicks in is those retirements will happen. For hospitals, we can be in a nursing shortage in no time flat.

Q. When might a nursing shortage be felt? 

Peter McMenamin: It depends on the economy. In the short run we're in a little bit a bubble. We're producing a lot more new nurses and we need more new nurses. But until those mature nurses start to retire, it's a bit of a backlog. I expect it to change in 2013. In 2014, when [state] health insurance exchanges are actually enrolling people, it should almost certainly have changed.

Q. Will providing insurance coverage to millions of uninsured people and overall demand for health care increase the demand for nurses? 

Peter McMenamin: Six factors are affecting the nursing shortage: 1) the economic recovery; 2) the Baby Boomers; 3) the Affordable Care Act; 4) employer changes; 5) market changes; and 6) care coordination. These factors will increase the demand for RNs. For example, two to three million Boomers will age into Medicare every year for the next 30 years. That's going to continue to increase the demand for nurses.

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