Nursing Workforce:

Recruitment and Retention of Nurses and Nurse Aides Is a Growing Concern

GAO-01-750T: Published: May 17, 2001. Publicly Released: May 17, 2001.

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Janet Heinrich
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Office of Public Affairs
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This testimony discusses the recruitment and the retention of nursing staff, including both nurses and nurses aides, and concerns about the future supply of these workers. The health and long-term care systems in the United States rely heavily on the services of both nurses and nurses aides, the two largest groups of health care workers. GAO found that the recruitment and the retention of both nurses and nurses aides are major concerns for health care providers. Experts and providers have reported a shortage of nurses, partly as a result of patients' increasingly complex care needs. This shortage is expected to become more serious as the population ages and the demand for nurses increases. Several factors combine to constrain the current and future supply of nurses. Like the population in general, the nurse workforce is aging; the average age of a registered nurse rose from 37 years in 1983 to 42 years in 1998. Enrollments in nursing programs have declined during the last five years, shrinking the pool of new workers available to replace those who are retiring. Many studies also report less job satisfaction among nurses, which could cause them to pursue other occupations. Demographic changes during the coming decades may also worsen the shortage of nurse aides in hospitals, nursing homes, and home health care settings.

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