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Report: Young RNs Leaving Health Care at ‘Worrisome’ Rate

U.S. faces a shortage of thousands of nurses

April 19, 2022

New analysis published in Health Affairs highlights a “worrisome drop” in young registered nurses (RN) and the overall workforce shortage in health care.

The new report highlights the need to develop strategies to support the health care workforce, especially early career nurses who started working during the pandemic. The authors note that it “is difficult to disentangle the contributing factors,” but the pandemic likely played a significant role in the workforce shortage that poses concerns across the health care community.

“A sustained reduction in the number of younger age RNs would raise ominous implications for the future workforce," the study authors wrote.

Analyzing recent Current Population Survey data, the analysts found:

  • A historic decline:  The total RN supply declined by more than 100,000 during 2021, “a far greater drop than ever observed over the past four decades”
  • Age-related departures:  The 1.8 percent decline in the RN workforce included a 4 percent drop in the number of RNs under 35. That’s compared to a 1 percent reduction in nurses over 50
  • Far fewer than expected:  Compared to projections absent the pandemic, there are 80,000 fewer RNs younger than 35 than expected
  • Hospital settings:  The decline in RNs was felt the most at hospitals, which saw a 3.9 percent reduction. Other settings saw a 1.6 percent increase in employment
  • Quotable:  “Because RNs typically remain working in nursing over their career, a reduction of younger RNs in the workforce would exert an impact that is felt over a generation,” the authors wrote

HAP continues to advocate for policies and legislation that support the health care workforce. In addition, through the Health Care Talent Task Force, HAP is guiding the development of strategies that will help attract and retain the health care talent pool in Pennsylvania.

Additional information about our workforce priorities, as well as a recent HAP report with insights on these challenges, is available online