The good news is that the nation's nursing schools have doubled the size of their graduating classes over the past decade. The bad news is that there remain huge waiting lists for qualified nursing school applicants, mainly because of faculty shortages and limited access to clinical sites.
"It is not that the shortage is gone, but [that] there has been an increase in the younger cohort of nurses entering the workforce," McMenamin says. "In 2000 U.S. nursing graduates came to about 70,000. In 2011 U.S. graduates came to more than 140,000. It is changing the age distribution of the workforce but at the same time we have 3.1 million nurses, so even 100,000 a year don't change the distribution very quickly."
The ANA says the U.S. nurse workforce median age is 46 now and about half is nearing retirement.
"We have a lot of Baby Boomer-aged nurses and they have not retired because of the economy," says Janet Haebler, RN, associate director for state government affairs with the ANA.
"As that changes, or as they continue to age, we are going to see them leave. And it is a dramatic number of people. With the nursing schools, the enrollments are up, but we also have wait lists and part of that has to do with the shortage of faculty, and those individuals are also aging out. We can predict that if we don't make some dramatic changes that we are going to see another or continued shortage that is going to exacerbate in the next five to 10 years."