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The Nursing Workforce Now vs. 10 Years Ago: 4 of the Biggest Changes

Once a decade, the Health Resources and Services Administration releases the nation’s most in-depth report about the demographics of U.S. nurses. The 2018 data, released earlier this month, reveals drastic shifts within the workforce, especially compared to 2008.

To start, the report, titled the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN), found there were 3,957,661 licensed, registered nurses living in the U.S. in 2019. Roughly 83 percent of them a nursing-related job the previous year. This is up from 3,063,162 in 2008.

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The survey breaks down its insights into age, race, gender, education, employment and more. Here are the salient findings for each category.

Age of Nurses in 2018

The survey found the average nurse is 47.9 years old. Roughly 47.5 percent of respondents were 50 or older; in 2008, this number was 44.7 percent. Approximately 40 percent of the 2018 workforce graduated from an initial nursing program in 2005 or later. Respondents had on average 18.9 years of work experience.

Courtesy of HHS

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Race and Gender of Nurses in 2018

White, non-Hispanics represented the largest racial group of nurses at 73.3 percent, followed Hispanics at 10.2 percent, Blacks at 7.8 percent, Asians at 5.2 percent and multiple races 1.7 percent. For comparison, these groups’ percentages in 2008 were, respectively: 83.2, 3.6, 5.4, 5.8 and 1.7.

Courtesy of HHS

Over the past decade, Latinx nurses grew the most, moving from the second smallest ethnic group to the second-largest. Black nurses experienced sizable growth, as well. Survey authors also observed that the portion of non-White nurses finishing school has grown substantially, largely due to Latinx students. In 2013, 19.5 percent of new-grad nurses were Latinx, up from 9.5 percent in 1993

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Percentage-wise, there are more men in nursing now than ever before. In 2018, men represented 9.6 percent of nurses compared to 7.1 percent in 2008. Male nurses are also more likely to work in hospitals.

Education of Nurses in 2018

The most common, initial degree obtained by nurses practicing in 2018 was the ADN with 48.5 percent, followed by the BSN at 39.2 percent. That said, in this day and age, many ADN grads go back to school. Some 63.9 percent of respondents had a final educational attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher.

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Courtesy of HHS

Between 2008 and 2018, the number of DNP nurses doubled from less than 1 percent of the population to 1.9 percent. Nurses with master’s degrees grew from 13.2 percent in 2008 to 17.5 in 2018. The portion of nurses with a graduate degree and AP certification grew from 8.1 percent in 2008 to 11.5 percent in 2018.

Overall, the education level of nurses has improved. Almost half of respondents, 44.6 percent, said their highest degree was a bachelor’s, versus 38.8 percent in 2008. While the growth is impressive, it’s unlikely the industry will complete the Institute of Medicine’s initiative to have 80 percent of nurses earn BSNs by 2020.

Employment of Nurses in 2018

Roughly 78.9 percent of nurses in related jobs worked full time. Hospitals were the most common practice setting, representing 59.9 percent of respondents, follow by clinics and ambulatory settings (15.6 percent) and other inpatient settings (8.3 percent). Some 16.6 percent of employed respondents do not work in direct patient care.

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The survey digs into salary, too. In 2018, median earnings for full-time RNs was $73,929; for part time RNs, it was $39,985. Without a graduate degree, nurses earned $69,663 on average versus $95,805 with one. The highest paying APRN position is the certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) at $161,076, followed by nurse midwives at $102,115, nurse practitioners at $99,962 and nurse specialists at $95,773.

Courtesy of HHS

In 2008, average annual earnings for full-time RNs was $66,973. The earnings gap between graduate-educated and ADN or BSN nurses has also grown; in 2008, it was only $20,000, versus $26,000 in 2018. APRN salary has also grown. In 2008, CRNAs pocketed about $15,000 less each year.

While progress for the profession might not happen as quickly as advocates would like, the data shows nursing is a promising job for those willing to educate themselves and put in the work.


2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses Brief Summary of Results, Health Resources and Services Administration.

The Registered Nurse Population Findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, Health Resources and Services Administration.

Newly Released Survey Data Show Nurses More Diverse, Better Educated, Campaign for Action.

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