Nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession. There are currently over 2.6 million Registered Nurses (RN’s) and over 700,000 Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses (LPN’s/LVN’s) in the United States. Demand for nurses is high relative to other occupations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nursing employment will grow “much faster than average” through at least the year 2018 (the latest available forecast).
Nursing is becoming more demanding and complex. These trends are a result of both the continued advance of healthcare technology and Americans’ increased utilization of healthcare services. These trends will likely only increase as the Baby Boom generation begins to retire and the U.S. population ages. In this emerging healthcare environment, nurses must juggle ever-changing and sometimes competing demands from patients, physicians, and managers.
Nurses are assuming more authority and responsibility for patient care. A generation ago, physicians clearly occupied the top rung of the U.S. healthcare system. While the ability to collaborate with (and take direction from) physicians is still an essential skill, nurses have assumed a progressively larger share of managerial roles in many healthcare organizations. The rise of advanced practice nursing roles which have granted nurses masters and doctoral degrees, and enabled some qualified practitioners to diagnose disease and prescribe medications (roles once reserved only for physicians), has accelerated this trend.
A growing number of nurses will work outside of hospitals. Currently, about 60% of RN’s work in hospitals, as do about 25% of LPN’s/LVN’s. But hospitals constitute the slowest-growing work environment for nurses; for RN’s, the strongest job growth will be found in physician offices, home health care services, nursing homes, and employment services, respectively. For LPN’s/LVN’s, home health care and nursing homes will also see strong job growth. These trends will likely continue as the costs of treating patients in acute care hospitals continues to rise.
The nursing shortage has been temporarily relieved – not solved long-term. Due to the prolonged recovery from the economic recession, a larger than expected share of nurses has delayed retirement or re-entered the profession. Because it is expensive to train new graduates, younger and more inexperienced nurses are currently struggling to find employment in some settings and regions of the country. But the nursing workforce continues to age, and the growth of the healthcare industry (one of the few to add jobs overall during the recession) will eventually mean that the demand for nurses will again outstrip the supply.