Maintaining an Adequate Supply of RNs in California

January 21, 1999

Over the past 2 years, concerns have arisen about the adequacy of the supply of RNs in California and the rest of the United States. Nurse leaders have called upon the California State Legislature to respond to concerns by increasing funding for RN education at public colleges and universities. The study’s aim was to ascertain whether California faces a shortage of RNs and whether greater state government funding of RN educational programs is necessary to alleviate such a shortage. Secondary data from several sources were analyzed. Cross-sectional analysis of data from the 1996 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses concerning California RNs' demographic characteristics and employment patterns was conducted. Longitudinal analysis of data was examined for trends in California's population, utilization of RNs, and graduations from RN education programs. Approximately 230,000 RNs lived in and were licensed to practice in California; 77% of California RNs were employed in nursing (70% working full-time; 30% part-time). Only a small number of California RNs were not currently working in nursing but were likely to enter the labor market. Most RNs who were not working were older retired women. The study found that a large increase in the RN workforce is needed to keep pace with the rapid growth of California's population. For California to maintain a stable ratio of RNs to population, the authors estimated an additional 43,000 RNs will be needed by 2010, and an additional 74,000 will be needed by 2020. Educators, employers, and state policymakers should implement concerted and coordinated efforts to avert a shortage. The magnitude of the impending shortage of RNs in California is too large for the RN labor market to resolve. State government should provide additional resources for basic RN education programs.

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