Registered Nurse and Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Workforce and Education in California


Connie Kwong and Janet M. Coffman

July 31, 2020

Registered nurses (RNs) are the largest group of health care professionals in the United States. They work in a wide range of health care settings and provide a variety of services including acute care, primary care and preventive services.

Prospective RNs can complete one of four types of educational programs: a hospital-based diploma, an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or an entry-level master’s degree. RNs with associate degrees may subsequently obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing through an RN-to-bachelor’s degree program. RNs with bachelor’s degrees may enroll in master’s degree or doctoral programs that provide additional training in specific aspects of nursing such as advanced practice nursing, nursing administration and nursing education. Those who complete a graduate program in advanced practice nursing are eligible for certification as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs practice in one of the following areas of specialization: clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse anesthetist (NA), nurse-midwife (NM) or nurse practitioner (NP).

This report is divided into two chapters. The first chapter presents information about RNs and the second chapter presents information about APRNs.


  • RNs
    • In 2017, there were 353,048 RNs in California.
    • The California RN workforce is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.
    • The statewide age distribution of RNs has trended slightly younger, with growth in the share of nurses under the age of 45.
    • RNs are more likely to work in metropolitan areas than in rural areas, small cities or towns.
    • Most graduates of California RN programs work in California after graduation.
    • More than half (56.6%) of California RNs have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a graduate degree.
    • Supply and demand for RNs in California is near equilibrium. However, there are regional shortages, as well as shortages of nurses with specialized skills. 
  • APRNs
    • In 2016, there were 24,528 APRNs in California.
    • The majority of APRNs are NPs.
    • APRNs are older and less racially diverse than the overall RN population.
    • APRNs that provide primary care, such as NPs and NMs, can help mitigate shortages of primary care clinicians.