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Government projects shortage of nurses


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States faces a critical shortage of registered nurses, a trend that threatens to undermine quality medical care, government health experts warned Wednesday.

Figures compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services found that growth in the nursing workforce has not kept pace with the country's population growth over the past four years. Some states are already experiencing a shortage of nurses, and a national nursing crunch could kick in as early as 2010, experts said.

"Based on all of this data and research, the picture is fairly clear," said Dr. Claude Earl Fox, head of the Health Resources and Services Administration. "Unless something is done now, there may not be enough nurses in the not-too-distant future to meet the nation's health care needs."


As of March 2000, the survey estimated there were 2.7 million licensed registered nurses in the United States, up from 2.5 million reported in the government's last survey in 1996. That 5.4 percent increase is the lowest reported by the department since it began keeping such data in 1977. The survey is conducted every four years.

Fox said there are already nursing shortages in California and New York, adding that other states have reported some difficulty in finding registered nurses as well.

"The focus is critical now because any future shortage of nurses would threaten the very quality of health care available in communities all across America," said Fox.

As the nation's population ages, nurses are also growing older, but the rate of newcomers to the profession is slowing, according to preliminary findings in "The National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses."

The report found that fewer young adults are going into nursing, with 9.1 percent of them under the age of 30 in 2000, dropping from 25.1 percent in 1980. In 1980, 40.5 percent of RNs were under the age of 35, compared to 18.3 percent in 2000.

In addition, the survey found that only 82 percent of registered nurses are licensed in individual states to practice their profession. While the overall nursing numbers are heading down, the report found there was a slight increase in the percentage of minority nurses as well as male nurses.

This year, HRSA plans to invest more than $76 million into programs to advance nursing education and promote diversity in the nursing workforce.

The complete report will be released this spring.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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