KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Nursing Shortage Eases With Recession’s Help

"The nation's deep recession is helping to alleviate the decade-long nursing shortage, as workers who had left the field in better times are returning in droves," the Wall Street Journal reports. The paper quotes a study, one of six papers on the nursing workforce published today in the journal Health Affairs, that found "nearly a quarter-million nurses entered the work force in 2007-08, an 18% surge that was the largest two-year increase in at least three decades." Many of them had left nursing, but "re-entered the work force to compensate for a spouse's lost income or health benefits, the study said." The increase is "particularly remarkable at a time when the U.S. economy has shed more than six million jobs, helping to solidify the profession's 'recession-proof' image." The study found that the surge in new nurses is due to "efforts to expand nursing schools, attract more young people into the field and improve working conditions," along with an increase in the number of foreign-born nurses.

"But long-term projections still indicate that the nursing shortage will widen over the next decade as the economy improves and the current, aging work force retires." The study estimates a shortage of about 260,000 nurses by 2020 (Evans in the WSJ, 6/12, Buerhaus, Auerbach, Staiger in Health Affairs, 6/12).

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