Montana State University

MSU professor and colleagues publish regional nursing workforce supply projections

February 3, 2017 -- By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Montana State University Professor Peter Buerhaus and his colleagues have published new research that finds dramatic differences in expected future growth of the nursing workforce across nine regions of the United States, research that could have implications for planning and workforce policy. MSU nursing students practice their skills in a clinical setting in this file photo. MSU photo by Kelly GorhamMontana State University Nursing Professor Peter Buerhaus and his colleagues have published new research that finds dramatic differences in expected future growth of the nursing workforce across nine regions of the United States, research that could have implications for planning and workforce policy. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

Montana State University Professor Peter Buerhaus and his colleagues have published new research that finds dramatic differences in expected future growth of the nursing workforce across nine regions of the United States, research that could have implications for planning and workforce policy. MSU nursing students practice their skills in a clinical setting in this file photo. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

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BOZEMAN — A Montana State University nursing professor and his colleagues have published new research that finds dramatic differences in expected future growth of the nursing workforce across nine regions of the United States, research that could have implications for planning and workforce policy.

Peter Buerhaus, a professor who serves as director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at MSU, co-authored the research with healthcare economists David Auerbach, who is affiliated with the center, and Douglas Staiger from Dartmouth College. Their work appears in the current issue of Nursing Outlook, the journal of the American Academy of Nursing. It was funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The research was performed after an “unprecedented increase” in nursing school enrollment and graduates in the past 10 years, which has decreased the likelihood of a large national shortage of nurses by 2020 that researchers had previously predicted. More recently, researchers projected the future supply of full-time registered nurses according to four regions of the country. However, the current study marks the first time that researchers have extended the analysis by further dividing the country into nine distinct regions.

“These more detailed forecasts provide healthcare delivery organizations and stakeholders with more actionable information,” the researchers wrote.

In their current study, Buerhaus and his colleagues used workforce data from two national surveys, the Current Population Survey and American Community Survey, for their projections. From that data, they estimated the number of full-time registered nurses by age and year and then used those estimates to project both the total and per capita growth in the supply of registered nurses by region.

To generate their projections regionally, the researchers grouped states into nine regions. Montana was part of an eight-state mountain region that also includes Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The study calculated the proportion of older registered nurses in the workforce who are expected to retire in each region, the number of younger people entering the workforce who will replace them and how fast the population will grow. 

Buerhaus and his colleagues found that while the nursing workforce continues to increase in size overall, there are “strikingly different workforce dynamics in different areas of the country.” Growth projections ranged from zero expected growth in the number of registered RNs per capita in the New England and Pacific regions between 2015 and 2030, to 40 percent growth in the East South Central region (which includes Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky) and in the West Central region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana). Healthcare delivery organizations in New England and the Pacific regions are more likely to confront bursts in registered nurse retirements and temporary nursing shortages, while organizations in other regions (the Southern and Central regions) will avoid such disruptions. Growth in the mountain region is projected to be 18 percent between 2015 and 2030, the third fastest growth rate among the nine regions, the researchers found.

The researchers concluded that if the demand for registered nurses continues to grow as expected and recent trends do not change, some regions of the U.S. will face shortfalls in their nursing workforce in coming years. Because of this, policy makers in some of those regions may want to “move more aggressively to seek to increase the capacity of the nursing education system, promote nursing careers, attract RNs from other areas, and help organizations retain RNs and decrease turnovers,” the researchers wrote.

“State health workforce centers may be a useful vehicle through which to undertake these and other related efforts,” they added.

The MSU Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies generates research and information regarding key trends in nursing and other health workforces, analyzes that information and shares it with stakeholders. The center’s ultimate mission is to improve the performance of the national health care delivery system. It is housed in the MSU College of Nursing. For more information, visit http://healthworkforcestudies.com.

Contact: Peter Buerhaus, professor, MSU College of Nursing, and director, MSU Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies, (406) 994-2681 or peter.buerhaus@montana.edu

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