The nursing generation: Millennials are twice as likely to become nurses as baby boomers, study finds

Millennials are choosing careers in nursing at rates that nearly double those of baby boomers—a trend that could help stem the looming nursing shortage, according to a study published in Health Affairs, Michelle Andrews writes for Kaiser Health News.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2024 there will be more than one million job openings for RNs, driven in part by the retirements of nurses from the baby-boom generation. However, the study authors note that there has been a "surprising surge of interest in nursing among members of the millennial generation," which some believe could help alleviate the looming nursing shortage.

For the study, researchers from the University of Montana and Dartmouth College analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau on nearly 430,000 registered nurses from 1979 to 2015 to better understand the incoming millennial nursing cohort and how it could affect the nursing workforce. 

Study findings

The researchers found that millennials—people born between 1982 and 2000—were nearly twice as likely to become RNs as baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964. Millennials also were 60% more likely to become RNs than Gen X'ers, people born between 1965 and 1981.

While the researchers found that the number of new nurses has plateaued in recent years, they said the number of millennials still entering the field should nearly compensate for the retirement of baby boomer nurses over the next 12 years.

Why are millennials turning to nursing?

David Auerbach, lead author of the study and an external adjunct faculty member at Montana State University's College of Nursing, said, "There's no perfect answer" to explain why millennials are more likely to become nurses than members of the previous two generations.

Auerbach suggested that one factor could be that many millennials came of age during the Great Recession and may seek jobs that have stable wages and low unemployment, such as nursing.

Another potential factor could be generational characteristics: "These people are looking for more meaningful work and work that they care about," said Auerbach (Andrews, Kaiser Health News, 10/27; Auerbach et al., Health Affairs, October 2017).

Next: What makes millennials different from other generations in the workforce

In 2016, millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation in the United States. As more and more millennials enter the workforce, turnover—especially of millennial staff early in their career—is a growing challenge for many organizations.

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