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August 20, 2018

The nurse practitioner field is booming. But as young nurses advance, who will fill their shoes as RNs?

Daily Briefing

    A growing number of young nurses are planning to pursue advanced degrees—a trend that could help address the nation's shortage of primary care providers but could also result in fewer nurses at patients' bedsides, Alex Kacik reports for Modern Healthcare.

    More nurses seeking advanced degrees

    AMN Healthcare, a health care staffing agency, in April 2017 released a survey of 3,400 nurses showing a higher share of millennial nurses, ages 19 to 36, planned on becoming advanced-practice nurses (APNs) than nurses in other age groups. In particular, the survey showed:

    • About 50% of millennial nurses ages 19 to 36 plan to become APNs;
    • 35% of Generation X nurses ages 37 to 53 plan to become APNs; and
    • 12% of Baby Boomer nurses ages 54 to 71 plan to become APNs.

    According to Modern Healthcare, such respondents primarily intend to become nurse practitioners (NP), who typically have more autonomy and are qualified to address primary care shortages by seeing patients who have less acute conditions.

    Experts attribute the fast growth of the NP profession to the autonomy it offers, the challenging work environment it provides, and the opportunities it offers for educational advancement.

    Growth in APNs could mean a decline in bedside nurses

    The rise of NPs could help mitigate the nation's shortage of primary care providers—but Marcia Faller, chief clinical officer for AMN, points out that there is a shortage of registered nurses (RNs) too. "The most pressing need in health care is for the [RN] role," Faller said. "The supply is just not there."

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, seven states are expected to have RN shortages through 2030, in part due to aging populations and increased chronic disease management needs.

    Further, according to Modern Healthcare, when RNs obtain higher certifications, they tend to leave the organization they work for to find higher-paying positions elsewhere, which can drive increased turnover.

    Jennifer Bullard, co-CEO of Interim HealthCare's Texas and New Mexico division, noted, "Lots of nurse turnover makes patients uneasy." Bullard said high turnover led Interim Healthcare to alter its business model and focus on serving smaller communities, where turnover is less frequent. 

    Faller said to retain nurses, health care systems have to cultivate a positive work environment. She said, "More organizations need to ensure that RNs are working at the top of their license."

    At Interim HealthCare, younger nurses have significant flexibility with their schedules, including part-time work options for nurses who have children, according to Bullard. Interim HealthCare also bolstered training to help nurses learn on the job, created leadership opportunities for nurses pursuing advanced degrees, eased experience requirements, and increased its involvement with nursing schools.

    Bullard said millennial nurses are typically more concerned with work-life balance than compensation. She said, "We have had to think outside of the box for different generations" (Kacik, Modern Healthcare, 8/15).

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