The registered nursing workforce is growing and getting better educated, with more RNs pursuing advanced degrees, according to the latest numbers from the Health Resources and Services Administration. And that's exactly what the Institute of Medicine and many hospital systems want to see.
Over a 10-year period, the number of RNs holding a bachelor's or higher degree has increased to 55% in 2010 from 50% in 2000, according to the HRSA nursing workforce report. That means of the 2.8 million RNs in the workforce—as estimated by HRSA—more than 1.5 million have at least a four-year degree. The rest have two-year associate degrees.
The RN workforce has grown by 24.1% since 2000, increasing by nearly 550,000. HRSA concluded that “growth in the nursing workforce outpaced growth in the U.S. population,” citing the number of RNs per 100,000 population increased about 14% from 2000 to 2010. But leaders of nursing organizations warned that growth is barely keeping up with the rising demand for nurses, which is expected to continue because of healthcare reform and baby boomer retirements.
“We will have to continue to see this very bold production of new nurses, and we may need to increase production with specific targets in mind,” said Geraldine “Polly” Bednash, CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
A larger and better-educated workforce is good news for a healthcare world that's demanding higher performance out of nurses, said Peter Buerhaus, a professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. The findings are in line with IOM's 2010 recommendations that 80% of nurses hold a baccalaureate degree by 2020. Buerhaus isn't sure if the workforce will hit the IOM's suggested target in seven years, but the HRSA data show Buerhaus the promise of progress.