Nursing Licensure Data Underscores Recruiting Challenges

One of the first reports published that identified age as a concern about the nursing workforce arrived in June 2000, a product of research conducted by Dr. Peter Buerhaus and his colleagues.1 The report stimulated wide-ranging discussion across the health care sector. At that time, Virginia did not capture health care workforce data, and had nothing more than anecdotal information about the median age of the nursing workforce in the Commonwealth. Virginia’s Department of Health Professions (DHP) subsequently established a workforce data center, an effort supported by several organizations, including VHHA. One of the first projects undertaken by the data center was a 2010 nursing supply and demand study.2 That study found that Virginia’s nursing workforce had commonalities with other states. Similar to some other states, Virginia’s nurses were likely to be in their mid-40s. The study also predicted those nurses would begin to leave the workforce in significant numbers in 2015 when many of them reached their mid-50s, and it further warned that the number of younger nurses entering the workforce would not offset the vacancies. As hospitals and health systems have experienced greater difficulty recruiting nurses in recent years, statistics now available due to DHP’s data collection work that began years ago are enlightening. The chart shown as Figure 1 below demonstrates that the previously projected workforce participation rate among nurses in their mid-50s has experienced a sharp decline that began in 2015.3 The number of younger nurses in the workforce is insufficient to fill vacancies. Examining figures based on the past four years of DHP nursing data demonstrates that the number of licenses alone do not equate to nurse availability. Since 2014, the percentage of registered nurses not renewing their licenses has exceeded the percentage of new licensees. What’s more, the number of people with nursing licenses in Virginia exceeds the number of those who are actively working because some registered nurses retain their licenses after they leave the workforce. And the number of full-time equivalents in the workforce is well below the number of working nurses, which is indicative of a gap between the number of full-time and part-time nurses. While some national reports may predict a surplus of nurses in Virginia in the near future, those predictions do not align with current data on Virginia’s existing nursing workforce. (8/24)

1 Buerhaus, Peter: Staiger, Douglas O., and Auerbach, David I. Implications of an Aging Registered Nurse Workforce. JAMA, June 14, 2000. Vol 283, No.22, 2948-2954
2 Department of Health Professions. Forecasting Nurse Supply and Demand in Virginia 2008-2028

Figure 1. Aging Virginia Registered Nurses Leave Workforce as Predicted in 2010

Table 1. Changes in Nursing Workforce Participation 2014 to 2017