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Yes, nursing IS getting better!

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Pssst! Have you heard the good news about nursing in the United States? There are many good aspects of our work that make us want to keep doing what we’re doing, but there is also evidence that the profession as a whole is “feeling pretty good” these days.

In September 2004, the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN) published a study about the state of nursing in the U.S. and the nursing job market. This study was repeated in 2008, with results released in September 2010. Here are five important findings every nurse should know about.

1. More RNs are graduating and getting licensed.

Although there are some parts of the U.S. that have too many nurses, there are many other areas that have a shortage. The fear has been that as nurses get older and think about retiring or going to part-time work, this shortage will get worse. This fear has been intensified in the past few years by reports of a shortage of nursing instructors, the very people we need to educate the new nurses.

Well, there’s good news. According to the NSSRN study, there was an almost 8 percent growth in the number of licensed RNs in the U.S. between 2000 and 2004. This resulted in a new high of 2.9 million nurses. In 2008, the numbers were even better. The workforce grew another 5 percent, reaching another high of 3.1 million.

2. The median age of nurses is stabilizing.
Following the “new nurse” trend, the median age of working nurses isn’t rising as quickly as people feared. While there was a significant increase in median age between the first time this type of study was done in 1980 and in 2004, there was no change between 2004 and 2008.

In 1980, 52.9 percent of nurses were younger than 40. This number dropped to only 26.3 percent in 2004. The median age was 46—the same number found in the 2008 study.

3. More nurses are finding employment.
Again, there are some parts of the U.S. where nurses are having a rough time finding work. This could be due to many reasons—state and industry finances, population of the location or an overall glut of nursing graduates. The overall picture of nursing employment, however, is still positive. The survey found that in 2004, the rate of employment among actively licensed nurses was the highest since 1980, at a rate of 83 percent employment. By 2008, this rate had risen to 85 percent.

4. More nurses are earning more money.
Salaries are also rising across the country. While there are definite differences in pay scales according to geographical region, the trend is upward in salary and benefits. In 2004, the average RN was earning $57,785 annually for full-time work. This represented a growth of almost 14 percent since 2000. This was the first increase of that size in more than 10 years.
In 2008, the average RN salary rose to $66,973, an increase of almost 16 percent since 2004.

5. RNs are advancing their education.
Going back to school and getting an advanced degree in nursing isn’t always about moving up the management chain. Getting a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) is the way to become a nurse practitioner, for example. And by 2015, if all things go as planned, new nurses who want to go on to be advanced practice nurses or nurse practitioners will be required to get a doctorate in nursing to be allowed to practice.

An increase in education is quite noticeable over the past few surveys. Between 2000 and 2004, there was a 37 percent increase in RNs who went on to complete an MSN or a PhD in nursing. These numbers increased again between 2004 and 2008 by almost 47 percent. We went from having 376,901 MSN or PhD educated nurses in 2004 to 404,163 in 2008. This is a big difference from the first study in 1980, where there were only 85,860 RNs with these advanced degrees.

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Marijke Durning

Marijke is a professional writer who began her working career as a registered nurse over 25 years ago. After working in clinical areas ranging from rehab to intensive care, as a floor nurse to a supervisor, she found she could combine her extensive health knowledge with her love of writing. Although she has been published in a wide variety of publications for professionals and the general public, her passion is writing for the every day person to promote health literacy.

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4 Responses to Yes, nursing IS getting better!

  1. jeanie

    Why aren’t LPN’s considered nurses?

  2. Excuse me? LPN stands for licensed Practical NURSE, I have been an LPN for over 25 years and have lots more experience than many RN’S especially those who have been an RN for less than 5 yrs. I am now a RCM reisdent care manager, and oversee a geritric nursing unit in LTC. I have done it all, IV insertion, meds, tube feedlings, insert NG tubes, and have been the charge nurse on a skilled nursing unit over the years, I have had RN’S ask me for my help many many times in making decisions on pat care especially in evergencies. LPN’S are nurses! and most I have known have been the best out there.I make around 60,000 a yr and most RN;S make between 55-65,000 a yr.

  3. Typo error on my last comment. I meant pt. care and emergencies!

  4. Marijke

    Hi Barbara and Jeanie. LPNs are absolutely nurses and are invaluable. However, this particular article is based on the RN study so it has to be about RNs. No slight to LPNs were intended.