According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the U.S. is projected to experience a shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) that is expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for health care grows. Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing schools across the country are struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for care. AACN is working with schools, policymakers, nursing organizations, and the media to bring attention to this healthcare concern.
Before COVID-19, the combination of nurses reaching retirement age and the limited availability of nursing education in our state created a widening supply and demand imbalance. The disruption this created in the market for these qualified professionals led to an average hospital vacancy rate for nurses of 6 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections 2021-2031, the Registered Nursing (RN) workforce is expected to grow by 6% over the next decade. The RN workforce is expected to grow from 3.1 million in 2021 to 3.3 million in 2031, an increase of 195,400 nurses. The Bureau also projects 203,200 openings for RNs each year through 2031 when nurse retirements and workforce exits are factored into the number of nurses needed in the U.S. This imbalance represents the nation’s most dire nursing shortage, which makes the idea of artificially reducing enrollment capacity incomprehensible.
On October 5, the Board of Registered Nursing’s Education Licensure Committee (“BRN”) will make recommendations on whether to maintain or reduce the number of students allowed to enroll in several of the state’s Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. These recommendations will weigh heavily on a final decision in November by the Board. It is important for Orange County – and all of California – that enrollment levels are at least maintained.
As it stands today, 62 percent of the state’s qualified nursing applicants cannot enroll in a nursing education program because there are not enough classes offered. The 2023-2024 Budget Act calls for a state investment of $988.4 million in total funding towards addressing shortages in care… yet the BRN is considering a reduction in the enrollment cap. Reduced enrollments would result in even more qualified nursing candidates being turned away.
Beyond the risk to patients is the economic impact of fewer Californians being permitted to become nurses. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses in California are the highest paid in the nation, with an average annual salary of $133,340. Californians should have pathways to good-paying careers, especially when there is such strong demand.
In 2014, the California State Legislature’s BRN Sunset review recommended that the “BRN should continue its efforts in increasing the number of RN graduates by… working with schools, colleges, and universities to promote, create or expand nursing programs… And find ways to increase access to nursing programs, especially for socioeconomically disadvantaged students.”
To artificially reduce enrollment at a time when the market has such a strong demand for qualified nurses is harmful to our providers, the potential employees who would benefit from such a career path, our overall economy, and the provision of care throughout California.
To watch the Board of Registered Nursing meeting, go to: https://www.rn.ca.gov/pdfs/meetings/elc/elcagenda_oct23.pdf