New Statistics on RNs

September 20, 2010
Lisa Schulmeister

On average, RNs are aging and more are employed as nurses.

In March 2010, the US Department of Health and Human Services released its findings of a 2008 survey of US registered nurses (RNs). It always amazes me that it takes over a year to compile and analyze fairly simple statistics. Nonetheless, the survey provides information about RNs that can be used to track trends in the profession and predict future needs. The survey asked nurses to report their demographic information and information about their education, employment, and intentions to leave or stay in the nursing profession.

In 2008, there were just over 3 million nurses in the US, and about 2.5 million or 84.8% were employed in nursing positions. Among nurses under 50 years old, 90% are employed in nursing positions. The percentage of RNs working full-time is over 75% for nurses under age 30 and ranges between 65-70% for RNs 30 to 59 years old. The number of nurses working full-time in nursing drops rapidly after age 60.

The average age of the RN has been rising, and is now 47. The percentages of RNs working in nursing drop for each age group after age 50, from 87.5% of RNs aged 50 to 54 to 85.1% of RNs aged 55 to 59 years, and to less than half of RNs over age 65.

Nurses also were asked about their future plans regarding nursing work. Among all RNs employed in nursing positions in March 2008, 54.5% had no plans to leave their nursing position within the next 3 years. This has likely increased over the past one to two years because of the declining economy and job loss in other employment sectors.

My take on these statistics is that younger people need to enter the nursing profession; otherwise, the average age of the RN will continue to increase. We also need to explore how older, more experienced RNs can be used in the workforce and how their years of expertise can contribute to the delivery of health care. Lastly, only a little over half of all RNs had no plans to leave the nursing profession, which means that just under half were contemplating getting out of the nursing profession. It would be interesting to see why these nurses are thinking about leaving; some surveys suggest it's the high stress work environment, work load, and lack of recognition and reward. Leaders in healthcare facilities need to take a look at the current statistics about RNs and think about how they are helping--or hindering--RNs remain in the nursing workforce.


US Department of Health and Human Services.The Registered Nurse Population.March 2010.Available at: