Too many nursing grads? A deeper look at data

We continue to write and ask questions about the supply and demand for nurses. It’s generated a terrific conversation at our site and at Economic Modeling Specialists, the research group that’s been equally interested in the topic.

We don’t have any definite answers. (If you do, drop us a line.) So in this post, we’ll dive a little deeper into the data.

The EMSI researchers got the ball rolling when they created this chart showing the number of students completing a nursing program last year and their projection of annual registered nurse openings through 2015.

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As we noted, there are lots of caveats, including the fact that the data counts people who are in nursing currently and moving up the degree ladder.

The EMSI guys then sent us the Minnesota data broken down by degree. The big number of 2009 nursing completers — 4,271 — includes associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s, degrees for nurse anesthetist and public health nursing, etc.

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We decided to look at associate’s and bachelor’s completers in 2008. Those are the folks most likely entering nursing for the first time.

That works out to 3,200 and matches up with data produced by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Some of those bachelor’s degree grads aren’t new to nursing. Some bachelor of nursing science programs are designed for people who are already nurses and are simply adding to their knowledge, so they aren’t necessarily adding to the supply.

So we’ll lop 10 percent off the total and that brings us down to about 2,880, which is in line with the tally by the Minnesota Board of Nursing of all Minnesota program graduates preparing for registered nurse licensure in 2008.

So let’s round off: 2,900 registered nursing grads in 2008. EMSI estimates Minnesota will need to add 2,600 nurses a year for the next five years. Minnesota state estimates put the new nurses need at an average of 2,400 a year through 2019.

Arguably, we can look at the data and conclude Minnesota schools are producing 300 to 500 more nurses a year beyond the projected need, which is pretty close to what we were talking about in our first post on the issue.

Let’s assume the students entering the registered nurse job market with a bachelor’s degree have an advantage over those with a two- year degree.

So if the oversupply falls completely on the 2,000 associate’s degree completers, we’re talking about 15 percent to 25 percent of associate degree completers who might have a hard time finding work.

I realize I’m in absolutely squishy territory.

In my work in journalism, I typically don’t let the audience into my thought process. As you can tell, it’s scary and vaguely incoherent.

But I think we ought to take a closer look two year programs.

We’ve seen a spike in the enrollments for two-year nursing programs. Are those grads viewed equally with bachelor’s holders in seeking RN jobs? Could we end up with an oversupply of two-year degree registered nurses and a shortage of RNs with a bachelor’s or higher?

In a post yesterday, EMSI highlighted an interview with Mary Bennett, director of Western Kentucky University’s School of Nursing, who’s been following the discussion. In her EMSI interview:

Bennett said graduates from WKU’s baccalaureate program aren’t having trouble finding jobs, but the issue might be at the two-year level.

“I think [the US is] probably at this point overproducing associate-degree nurses,” she said.

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We’re going to look at the two-year issue in a post next week. If you’re connected to a two-year program as a student, instructor, dean, whatever, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re also looking for placement data for two year nursing school graduates, locally or nationally. If you have some for your school, please send it.

One last thing: an Alabama community college is offering nursing students a guarantee: If you don’t have a job offer within six months of graduation, you’ll get a full tuition scholarship for an additional 30 credits.

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