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The U.S. Nursing Workforce: Trends in Supply and Education

Cover of the report "The U.S. Nursing Workforce: Trends in Supply and Education"   

  Results in Brief (PDF - 287 KB)

  Full Report (PDF - 2 MB)

  Figures Slide Presentation (PPT - 1 MB)

  Technical Documentation (PDF - 290 KB)

Understanding the supply, distribution, and educational pipeline of nurses is key to designing programs and policies that will ensure access to care and an effective health care system. The U.S. Nursing Workforce: Trends in Supply and Education (revised October 2013) analyzes data from a variety of sources to present recent trends and the current status of the registered nurse (RN) and licensed practical nurse (LPN) workforces.

The Current Supply of Nurses and Trends Over Time

Chart showing growth of the nursing workforce in the U.S.There were 2.8 million RNs (including advanced practice RNs) and 690,000 LPNs working in the field of nursing or seeking nursing employment in 2008 to 2010. About 445,000 RNs (16 percent) and 166,000 LPNs (24 percent) lived in rural areas. The per capita distribution of RNs varied substantially across states.

The nursing workforce grew substantially in the past decade, with RNs growing by more than 500,000 (24 percent) and LPNs by more than 90,000 (16 percent).

Growth in the nursing workforce outpaced growth in the U.S. population. The number of RNs per 100,000 population (per capita) increased by nearly 14 percent, and the number of LPNs per capita increased by about 6 percent.

The RN and LPN Pipeline

The nursing pipeline, measured by the number of individuals who pass national nursing licensing exams, grew substantially from 2001 to 2011. In 2011, more than 142,000 new graduate RNs passed the NCLEX-RN®, compared with 68,561 in 2001. LPN passers grew by 80 percent over the same time period. Chart showing growth in number of new graduate RNs who passed the NCLEX-RN exam from 2001 to 2011.

Among first-time test takers, the number of bachelor’s prepared RN candidates taking the NCLEX-RN exam more than doubled, from 24,832 individuals in 2001 to 58,246 in 2011. Associate's degree candidates taking the NCLEX-RN exam experienced a 99-percent growth, increasing from 41,567 in 2001 to 82,763 in 2011. RN candidates without a bachelor's degree continue to constitute the majority of all RN candidates (60 percent in 2011). 

Nearly 28,000 RNs were awarded a post-licensure bachelor’s in nursing (RN-BSN) in 2011, and another 26,200 were awarded master’s or doctoral degrees. There has been an estimated 86-percent increase in the annual number of RN-BSN graduates, and a 67-percent increase in graduate degree awards, over just the past four years. However, the annual number of post-licensure graduates is still too small, and the rapid growth too recent, to have generated large increases in the portion of the workforce prepared with bachelor’s or graduate degrees over the past decade.