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Nursing: Surplus or Shortage?

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For years — decades, even — we’ve been hearing about the nursing shortage. One editorial for Times noted, “The nationwide shortage of nurses is likely to reach crisis proportions. … There is not much of a chance for permanent relief until the nursing profession is made more attractive to young people through better salaries, working conditions and public recognition.” Though this sounds like it could have been written today, it was actually published in 1965.

But now we’re starting to hear about a nurse surplus?

Reasons for the Shortage

Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, and the senior citizen segment of the population is growing rapidly. Older Americans have more health issues than younger people and those health issues are often chronic in nature, meaning the care they need is ongoing. This of course puts stress on the healthcare system. And of those Baby Boomers retiring, many are nurses and nurse faculty — experienced nurses and nurse faculty. So not only do we have greater demand for healthcare, but we also have a dwindling supply of nurses to provide it.

And those aren’t the only causes of the nursing shortage. Nurses are at higher risk for health-related issues. According to “Why Is the U.S. Perpetually Short of Nurses?” published in The New Yorker, “While nurses tend to be satisfied with their career choice, fully half of them worry that the job has harmed their health.” The article goes on to point out “dissatisfaction with wages, hours, technological complexity, and administrative burdens.” And when you add that to the fact that nurses with the education and experience to teach new nurses can make more money nursing than teaching, it’s no surprise that there is an ongoing nursing shortage. What may surprise you is that some in the industry are starting to talk about a nursing surplus.

What Nursing Surplus?

We are all well aware of the nursing shortage, but new headlines heralding a surplus of nurses are starting to appear. Yes, it’s true! The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) report “The Future of the Nursing Workforce: National- and State-Level Projections, 2012-2015” (published in 2014) estimates a surplus of 340,000 full-time RNs in 2025.

While this data may be reassuring, it doesn’t represent the whole picture. Some regions of the country, particularly the Western states, will still experience shortages. Southern states seem to be in the clear — projections for Alabama place the surplus at approximately 14,400 RNs in 2025. However, some rural areas in the state may still have a shortage.

One likely cause of the projected surplus is the advent and growth in popularity of online nursing programs. Colleges and universities that may have turned down qualified candidates in the past due to a lack of faculty and facilities can now accept them. Working adults with no background in healthcare can now go to nursing school from anywhere at any time, while maintaining their jobs and personal lives. ADN-prepared nurses can earn their bachelor’s degrees without having to put their nursing careers on hold.


We have to keep in mind that most of the numbers that make headlines are only projections — shortages and surpluses. And projections can be off.

In 2001 the HRSA reported 68,000 new RNs entering the workforce that year and predicted there would be little growth in the number of graduates. They recommended the number be increased to 130,000 annually to meet the demand. The HRSA’s 2014 report shows an increase of 100 percent from 2001 with more than 150,000 new nurse grads in both 2012 and 2013.

Will the Surplus Nurses Have the Education and Experience They Need?

While these numbers seems promising, Kyle Schmidt of BluePipes points out that the HRSA report doesn’t take into account the education level of new graduates. There may be enough nurses, but will they be nurses with the right education at the right time and place? Many facilities — those seeking Magnet status, for example — are making the BSN a requirement for new hires.

Will the nurses available have the experience required to provide the care that patients need? With so many new graduates entering the workforce and so many experienced nurses leaving, we are left wondering if there will be nurses with enough experience to lead the way.

The survey also assumes that the current demand for nurses will plateau in the coming years, which, considering the recent changes in healthcare policy and an aging patient population that is living longer, is unlikely to be the case.

Good News for Nurses — Either Way

The nursing shortage was (or is) good news for nursing students because there seemed to be an endless supply of good jobs waiting for them when they finished school. With such high demand, it appeared as if new nurse grads would have their choice of practice environment as well.

How is a surplus good news for nurses and nursing students? Added competition makes your experience even more valuable, and holding a BSN degree, or higher, gives you a leg up on the competition.

Learn more about UAH’s online RN to BSN program.


HealthLeaders Media: The Nursing Shortage? It’s Complicated

The New Yorker: Why Is the U.S. Perpetually Short of Nurses?

The Sentinel Watch: The Nursing Shortage: Where Are We Now?

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The Future of the Nursing Workforce: National- and State-Level Projections, 2012-2025

BluePipes: 10 Things to Know About the Projected Nursing Surplus

Healthcare Traveler: Goodbye Shortage: Feds Now Predicting a 340,000-Nurse Surplus by 2025


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