The Growing Need for Registered Nurses in Many Roles

May 6-12, 2018 is National Nurses Week. This week celebrates the many diverse ways that registered nurses work in health care. Nurses aren’t simply the people in scrubs who bring you meds in the hospital, take your blood pressure in the doctor’s office or treat your wounds in the emergency room. While they deliver health care, they also conduct research, educate other healthcare providers and take on leadership roles. There is a growing need for registered nurses, no matter which role they play.

Nurses can be very proud that for the past 16 years the general public has rated nursing as the most honest and ethical profession. It also is a profession that offers great career opportunities. The aging population is requiring more and more health care, and many baby-boomer nurses are reaching retirement age. Both of these factors contribute to the Bureau of Labor Statistics naming registered nursing (RN) as one of the top growing occupations for 2014-24.

The US will need an additional 439,300 RNs by 2024 to take care of the aging population. In addition to that need, many of the nurses now caring for us will be retiring and need to be replaced. Sixty-one percent of RNs are 40 years of age or older and 59 percent of those are 50 or older. The US will need 649,100 RNs to replace these nurses.

It won’t be easy to meet this growing need for registered nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) says that nursing school enrollment isn’t increasing enough to meet future demands. The AACN 2017 report says that in 2016 US nursing schools had to turn away 64,067 qualified applicants because there wasn’t enough teaching faculty. Nurse educators are RNs who have advanced nursing degrees that qualify them to teach in higher education and at teaching hospitals. These advanced nursing degrees can be a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DPN). There are many opportunities for nurses to move into positions of nurse educator. Healthcare organizations support their nursing staff with tuition assistance plans to encourage nurses to earn advanced degrees that can qualify them to teach others entering the profession. This is one way to help meet the need for registered nurses.

Tuition assistance programs also help nurses complete the education they need to become researchers, an important part of today’s healthcare. Whenever people talk about a new way to treat an illness or injury, they are talking about the advances that come from research. Nursing research improves the effectiveness of healthcare in several ways. It builds a scientific base for clinical practice and treating patients. Research helps to prevent disease and disability, and it develops ways to manage and eliminate symptoms of illness so patients have a better quality of life.

There are many career opportunities available for nurses who want to pursue research. The National Institute of Nursing Research says that less than 5 percent of nurses have PhDs, and coming retirements could cause a shortage. Tuition assistance programs can support nurses who need advanced degrees to move into these research positions.

Meeting the need for registered nurses is an issue that touches everyone’s lives, from those who deliver care to those who receive it. In the AMN Healthcare 2017 Survey of Registered Nurses, 48 percent of nurses said that the nursing shortages are worse today than five year ago. Encouraging diverse populations to seek out the opportunities available is one way to address the issue. Almost 90 percent of nurses are women, and the majority of those are white women. Encouraging diversity among nurses will create a workforce that more closely represents the patient population.

Using tuition assistance to create career pathways for LPNs to become RNs is one way to fill the nursing openings. Today 66 percent of RNs hold a BSN or higher, but only 18 percent of RNs started their careers as LPNs. Career pathways can encourage LPNs to see advancement as a way to improve their own careers.

Tuition assistance is also a way to encourage more nurses to work toward leadership positions. A large number of nurses themselves, 82 percent, said on the AMN survey that more nurse leaders are needed. There is a need for RNs, whether their job is to treat patients, educate other healthcare professionals or conduct research. As nurses find leadership career opportunities in practice, education and research, the population they serve will benefit from advanced medical care.