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Study Shows Rebound in U.S. Registered Nurse Workforce Following COVID-19 Pandemic

A recent study published online in JAMA Health Forum reveals a notable rebound in the total number of registered nurses (RNs) in the United States during the years 2022 and 2023. Led by David I. Auerbach, Ph.D., from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, the research aimed to assess changes in the current and projected RN workforce in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analyzing employment data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census Current Population Survey spanning from 1982 to 2023, the researchers observed a significant recovery in RN employment following a sharp decline in 2021. The total number of full-time equivalent RNs in 2022 and 2023 exhibited a remarkable 6 percent increase compared to 2019, totaling 3.35 million versus 3.16 million.

Looking ahead, projections indicate a further growth in the RN workforce by approximately 1.2 million full-time equivalents by 2035, reaching a total of 4.56 million—nearly aligning with pre-pandemic forecasts. Notably, RNs aged 35 to 49 years are expected to constitute nearly half (47 percent) of the RN workforce by 2035, serving as a primary driver for this expansion.

In their conclusion, the authors emphasize that the pandemic's impact on employed RNs, while significant in the short term, is unlikely to impede the future growth trajectory of the overall RN workforce.

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