HealthDay News — Due to both the delayed retirement of experienced nurses and a surge in new nursing graduates, there were almost 3 million nurses practicing in the United States, reported researchers, totaling half a million more than previously studies suggested.

“A decade ago, with stagnant enrollment in nursing schools and the imminent retirement of large baby-boomer cohorts of registered nurses (RNs), forecasters predicted large nurse shortages beginning in the middle to the end of the current decade,” explained David Auerobach, PhD, of the RAND Corporation in Boston, and colleagues in a study published in Health Affairs.

Information for the study came from the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey from 2001 to 2012. The data included all respondents aged 23 to 69 years who reported being employed as a registered nurse during the week of the survey. Between both surveys, more than 34,000 registered nurses participated. The data were used to estimate the number of full-time nurses working each year and their ages.

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The trend of registered nurses delaying retirement has extended the average nursing career by 2.5 years after 50 years of age, and increased the 2012 workforce by 136,000 registered nurses, reported the investigators.

The size of the registered nurse workforce is particularly sensitive to changes in the retirement age, given the large number of baby boomer nurses now employed.

There are difficulties in predicting future nursing shortages or surpluses, the investigators noted, and changes in health care policy will also affect the influx of nurses.

“It is certainly possible that demand will grow in the near future because of the coverage expansions resulting from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), projected physician shortages, and population growth and aging. Should the demand for RNs increase, that could precipitate shortages of such skilled caregivers,” wrote the researchers.


  1. Auerobach D et al. Health Affairs.; 2014; doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2014.0128