Nursing 'Silver Tsunami' Warned

December 20, 2007
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Michigan added more than 2,000 people to the licensed nursing force in 2006, bringing it to 149,482, according to the Michigan Center for Nursing’s annual survey for 2007.

But the survey estimates that only 75 percent to 77 percent are actually working in nursing or related jobs in Michigan.

For four years, the Michigan Center for Nursing has surveyed nurses who are renewing their licenses, a process they undergo every other year. The 2007 survey was based on responses from 43,676 registered nurses and 9,098 licensed practical nurses who renewed their licenses.

There are some differences between the set of nurses who renewed licenses in 2005 and again in 2007 compared to those who renewed in 2004 and 2006, the researchers found. For example, the 2005/2007 cohort on average is older than their even-year counterparts, 47.2 years old compared to 46.

The total number of registered nurses licensed in Michigan rose by 1.8 percent over 2006, and the total number of licensed practical nurses rose by just under 1 percent. The survey showed that just 2 percent were looking for jobs.

Michigan Center for Nursing Director Carole Stacy said an increasing output from nursing schools has helped to reduce the number of vacant jobs.

“I think what we’re seeing right now is kind of a little blip in the information,” Stacy said. “From about 1996 to 2000, there was a decrease of about 5 percent a year in the number of people going into nursing. The last two years, we have been putting out at least 10 if not 20 percent more nurses.

“For right now, we’ve created like a little bubble. Vacancy rates are not nearly as high as they were. A lot of places that had unfilled positions have been able to fill those positions.”

Twenty-seven percent of the approximately 103,000 licensed RNs who are currently working are age 55 or older. The proportion of LPNs is even higher, at 35 percent. The percentage of nurses in that age category has increased since 2005, when it was 22 percent for RNs and 30 percent for LPNs.

With the aging population of nurses, Stacy said evidence is growing stronger that the profession is facing a “silver tsunami” beginning this year, when the oldest members of the baby boomer generation begin turning 62, become eligible for Social Security and start retiring.

“Every year after that, we’re going to see a cohort dropping out,” Stacy said.

“We have to be vigilant. We can’t let down efforts (to boost the number of new nurses). Even though right now we’re looking better, we’re going to pull out a pretty big contingent of nurses. We’re going to be back in that shortfall.”

Adds the survey: “It is not just the nurses nearing retirement age who are planning to stop practicing nursing in the near future.” It reports that of active RNs of any age, 38 percent said they plan to leave the profession within the next 10 years, up from 35 percent in the same group in 2005. Of LPNs of any age, 41 percent said they plan to leave nursing in one to 10 years, up from 38 percent of the same group in 2005.

That means the state could lose more than 39,000 RNs and more than 8,000 LPNs in the next 10 years. If the rate of new licenses were to remain constant over 10 years, the state’s nursing schools would be able to produce a little more than 24,000 to replace them.

And 6 percent already are retired or have no plans to return to nursing, according to the survey.

“We can’t look at what’s happening right now and breathe a sigh of relief,” Stacy said. “We’re just reloading.”   HQX

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