10 May How Should We Prepare For The Wave Of Retiring Baby Boomer Nurses?
Beginning in the early 1970s, career-oriented and largely female baby boomers embraced the nursing profession in unprecedented numbers following large increases in health care spending after the introduction of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. By 1990, baby-boomer registered nurses (RNs) numbered nearly one million and comprised about two-thirds of the RN workforce. As these RNs aged over the next two decades, they accumulated substantial knowledge and clinical experience. The number of boomer RNs peaked at 1.26 million in 2008, and, after a brief delay in the early part of the current decade (likely associated with the Great Recession), the baby-boomer RN cohort began retiring in large numbers. Since 2012, roughly 60,000 RNs exited the workforce each year, and by the end of the decade more than 70,000 RNs will be retiring annually. In 2020, baby-boomer RNs will number 660,000, roughly half their 2008 peak.
The retirement of one million RNs from the nursing workforce between now and 2030 will mean that their accumulated years of nursing experience leave with them. We estimate that the number of experience-years lost from the nursing workforce in 2015 was 1.7 million (multiplying the number of retiring RNs by the cumulative years of experience for each RN), double the number from 2005 (see Figure 1). This trend will continue to accelerate as the largest groups of baby-boomer RNs reach their mid to late sixties. The departure of such a large cohort of experienced RNs from the workforce means that patient care settings and other organizations that depend on RNs will face a significant loss of nursing knowledge and expertise that will be felt for many years to come.
The exit and replacement of retiring RNs will not occur uniformly because health care delivery organizations in some regions of the country will confront faster RN retirements and slower replacements of their RN workforce (especially the New England and Pacific regions) compared to other regions of the country (the Southern and Central regions). Consequently, some organizations will experience bursts in RN retirements that may result in temporary nursing shortages and disruptions in care delivery. How can health care delivery organizations overcome the loss of so much nursing knowledge, wisdom, and expertise?
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