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Study finds nurses staying in workforce longer

Jul. 24, 2014, 9:31 AM

Registered nurses are staying in the workforce longer than in past decades, boosting the nation’s supply of R.N.s, according to a new study whose authors include Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D.

Buerhaus, Valere Potter Professor of Nursing and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies,  and other researchers found that the nurses they tracked remained on the job 2.5 years longer than in earlier decades, according to the study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D.

Buerhaus said having these additional and more seasoned R.N.s in the workforce will help provide access to care to the millions of people who are gaining health insurance via the Affordable Care Act.

“Because the majority of R.N.s who are over age 50 have accumulated many years of wisdom and experience, their impact on the delivery of care will be important and timely,” Buerhaus said.

“Also, with the transition of more health care being provided in non-hospital settings, these R.N.s will bring a wealth of knowledge to these settings, thereby helping to bolster the quality of care and provide insights into how best to provide nursing and health care.”

The trend of delayed retirement wasn’t expected. A decade ago, researchers forecasted a nursing shortage, based on stagnant enrollments in nursing schools and the coming retirement of baby boomer nurses. They projected in 2000 that the number of nurses would peak at 2.2 million in 2012. Rather, there were 2.7 million nurses that year.

The study’s lead author is David Auerbach, a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth College is the study’s third author.

The authors attribute the difference to a surge in new nursing graduates and the fact that fewer R.N.s retired during the recent economic recession. But it also found that the trend toward later retirement is true of other professions.

“We estimate this trend accounts for about a quarter of an unexpected surge in the supply of registered nurses that the nation has experienced in recent years,” Auerbach said. “This may provide advantages to parts of the U.S. health care system.”

Support for the study was provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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