Nurses Bolstered by Massive Influx of Millennials but Shortages Remain

Millennials are becoming nurses at nearly twice the rate of baby boomers, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

Millennials are the generation born between 1982 and 2000 and have surpassed baby boomers as America’s largest living generation, according to a 2016 population estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau.               

The United States faces a shortage of nurses and with baby boomers heading into retirement soon or already there, it is important that those lost nursing positions are replaced by younger workers.

Americans born in 1955 were 65 percent less likely to become a registered nurse (RN) than those born in the late 1980s, according to the study. Indeed, millennials have entered the nursing workforce at 186 percent the rate of baby boomers. These rates appear to have plateaued, however, since the number of RNs that took the required licensure exam doubled between 2003 and 2013, but that number leveled off between 2013 and 2016.

The number of RNs ages 21-34 years old almost doubled, from 440,000 in 2000 to 834,000 in 2015.

The study’s researchers examined data on more than 429,500 RNs, using both the Current Population Survey and American Community Survey of the Census Bureau.

“Overall, considering the acceleration in retirement of the baby boomers and the stabilization of the entering cohort sizes among millennials, we expect the nurse workforce to grow 36 percent, to just over four million RNs, between 2015 and 2030, a rate of 1.3 percent annual per capita growth,” wrote the authors in the study. “This is a rate of per capita growth similar to that observed from 1979 to 2000, but half the rate observed in the rapid-growth years of 2000–15 (2.5 percent). In other words, even with millennials’ unprecedented rate of entry into nursing, the retirement of the baby boomers will dampen (but not erase) the workforce growth rates of the past decade.”

The authors of the study recommend health care providers anticipate “a more slowly growing workforce and the loss of an experienced cohort of RNs.”