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Registered nurses are delaying retirement, a shift that has contributed to recent growth in the nurse workforce

By By David I. Auerbach, Peter I. Buerhaus, and Douglas O. Staiger Health Affairs July 16, 2014

The size of the registered nurse (RN) workforce has surpassed forecasts from a decade ago, growing to 2.7 million in 2012 instead of peaking at 2.2 million. Much of the difference is the result of a surge in new nursing graduates. However, the size of the RN workforce is particularly sensitive to changes in retirement age, given the large number of baby-boomer RNs now in the workforce. We found that in the period 1969–1990 for a given number of RNs working at age fifty, 47 percent were still working at age sixty-two and 9 percent were working at age 69. In contrast, in the period 1991–2012 the proportions were 74 percent at age 62 and 24 percent at age 69. This trend, which largely predates the recent recession, extended nursing careers by 2.5 years after age fifty and increased the 2012 RN workforce by 136,000 people. Because many RNs tend to shift out of hospital settings as they age, employers seeking RNs for nonhospital roles may welcome (and seek to capitalize on) the growing numbers of experienced RNs potentially able to fill these positions.

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