The exodus of young nurses

The U.S. nursing workforce fell by more than 100,000 in 2021, primarily driven by nurses under age 35 leaving hospital-based jobs, according to an analysis published April 13 in Health Affairs.

Researchers analyzed nursing workforce trends from 1982 to 2021 using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey.

The nursing workforce decreased 1.8 percent between 2019 and 2021, marking the largest drop seen in four decades. This decline stemmed primarily from younger nurses leaving the field, researchers found. The number of nurses younger than age 35 fell by 4 percent over this time period, compared to a 0.5 percent decline for nurses ages 35 to 49 and a 1 percent drop for nurses 50 and older.

While more data is needed to confirm this trend, researchers said a sustained reduction in the number of younger nurses would pose "ominous implications for the future workforce." Nurses typically remain in nursing for their entire career, which means a drop in younger nurses would create workforce issues felt over a generation, they said. A decline in older nurses who opt to retire early would have a more minor effect. 

Pandemic-related stressors and hospital workforce shortages may be causing younger nurses to reevaluate their work environments and experiences, researchers said.

"Significantly larger efforts to support and sustain early career nurses, who have had a trial by fire in their new profession, may be needed, along with more effective strategies to reward those who remain at the front lines and those who are needed to return," researchers concluded.

View the full article here.

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