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Baby Boomers and the Nursing Shortage: What You Need to Know

There are currently more than 76.4 million “baby boomers,” according to the most recent figures from the United States Census Bureau. While these numbers alone – nearly a third of the U.S. population – are noteworthy, even more significant are the implications for the American healthcare system. With the last of the baby boomers set to turn 65 by December 31, 2029, a perfect storm is emerging in the form of a widely anticipated nursing shortage. Here’s what you need to know:

A Closer Look at the Baby Boomers

As the largest generation in American history, the baby boomers comprise all individuals born between 1946 and 1964. They began turning 65 on January 1, 2011, and more than 10,000 of them will turn 65 every single day between then and 2030.

It’s not exactly surprising that the aging of the boomers will present unprecedented challenges for the healthcare industry. With the over-65 population set to triple in the 50 year period concluding in 2030, a report from the American Hospital Association (AHA) predicted the following eye-opening statistics.

By 2030:

  • More than 60 % (37 million) of baby boomers will suffer from multiple chronic conditions
  • More than 25% (14 million) of baby boomers will be living with diabetes
  • More than 33% (21 million) will be obese
  • Nearly 50% (26 million) will suffer from arthritis

Accordingly, the demand for healthcare services is expected to skyrocket with baby boomers predicted to account for a massive proportion of everything from physician visits to hospitalizations. Factor in medical advancements and longer life expectancies, the effect on the already-stressed healthcare system is expected to be profound.

The Imminent Nursing Shortage

Combined with the influx of new patients with access to healthcare due to federal health insurance reform, the aging of the baby boomers means more and more patients will be flooding the healthcare system in coming years. Shortages are expected to play out across the entire continuum of care, but one area is expected to take the largest hit: Nursing.

There were more than 2.7 million jobs for nurses in 2012, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the 10-year period between 2012 and 2022, this number is expected to increase by 526,800. This 19% rate of growth significantly outpaces the average for all other occupations.

Not only will the nursing workforce grow due to new demand, but the rising need for replacement nurses – also related to the coming of retirement age of the baby boomer population – is expected to create an additional 525,000 vacancies. The total anticipated number of nursing vacancies from both new growth and replacements by 2022? A staggering 1.05 million.

Registered nurses, and those with a doctorate in nursing, will be in particular demand thanks to their heightened knowledge, skill set and experience, as will nurses with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees due to the increasing leadership roles nurses will play as the center of care.

While growth is expected across all specialties, those related to the aging population, such as long-term care – including facilities which provide stroke, head injury, and Alzheimer’s treatments – and home healthcare settings, are expected to make the most significant gains. Outpatient care centers which provide same-day services such as rehabilitation, chemotherapy, and surgical procedures are also expected to gain traction.

The Future of the Nursing Industry

Because nurses are expected to play a pivotal role in the emerging healthcare environment, more opportunities than ever will exist for those willing to take the leap into this challenging yet rewarding career, as well as for those looking to take on leadership roles.

Not only will job opportunities be plentiful for nurses in the years ahead, but the promise of financial security is strong. While the median annual wage for nurses hovers at just over $65,000, the largest earners make close to $95.000. In addition to desirable salaries, nurses also benefit from perks ranging from educational benefits to flexible work schedules. Signing bonuses are also becoming a common recruitment incentive. So whether you prefer to work in your hometown hospital, explore domestic travel nursing, or even work overseas, the opportunities are abundant.

Perhaps most appealing of all is the fulfillment that comes with knowing your talents are being put to extraordinary use: nurses are consistently ranked by Americans as the most trusted profession.