Nearly 118,700 registered nurses joined the U.S. healthcare workforce in 2003, many of them age 50 and older or foreign-born R.N.s, according to a study published online in Health Affairs. A surge of R.N.s in their 20s and early 30s -- many with two-year associate's degrees -- contributed to the growth as well. The expansion surpassed 2002 when the R.N. labor pool increased by about 85,900 full-time nurses, and the combined two-year increase was the highest in the past two decades, since researchers began collecting data. That makes for an average 5% growth rate in the R.N. workforce for 2002 and 2003.
The researchers estimated that hospital wages for nurses rose 1.8% in 2003, compared with 4.9% in 2002. But overall U.S. unemployment also rose -- to 6% from 5.8% in 2002. The apparent success of industry efforts to promote nursing and increase access to nursing education helped hospitals but didn't erase the nursing shortage, said Peter Buerhaus, study co-author and senior associate dean for research at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. The industry must "take a deep breath and get back at it," Buerhaus said. Read the report. -- by Melanie Evans