Aging Nursing Population: Nursing Shortage Worsens as More Nurses Retire

nurses who are older in age
Written by
Miranda Kay, RN
November 17, 2022

The medical community has been campaigning for years and raising awareness about the nursing shortage. Then the pandemic hit, and finally, media outlets began shining spotlights on nurse stories and the challenges they face in their work compounded by the shortage. The media raised awareness because everything "pandemic" was important news. Still, unfortunately, the pandemic also exacerbated the nursing and healthcare worker shortage, increasing the rate of nurse turnover and perhaps prompting some of the aging nurse population into early retirement due to an increased risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms and illness.

Should a nurse retire while their services are so desperately needed by people nationwide? Are there other options, such as PRN nursing jobs? Keep reading to learn how experienced nurses are prepared to retire, at what age a nurse can retire, why nursing programs can't seem to keep up, how immigrants are coming to help with the nursing shortage, and also how nurses who were considering retirement can choose per diem jobs on the side if they wish to remain in the field.

Learn More About the Importance of Population Health

Experienced Nurses Prepare to Retire

This isn't a problem only for our country. It is, in fact, a global concern. According to the International Centre on Nurse Migration (ICNM), 4.7 million nurses worldwide will retire by 2030, and 10.6 million new nurses will be needed to replace those fleeing and fill the shortage.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers (Forum) conduct a national nursing workforce study every two years. They analyzed data on diversity, education, income, and retirement decision-making among nurses. Their 2020 report found the following:

  • The median age of RNs was 52 years old.
  • Nurses aged 65 years or older accounted for 19.0% of the RN workforce.
  • The median age of LPNs/LVNs was 53 years old. 
  • LPNs/LVNs aged 65 years or older accounted for 18.2% of the workforce.
  • An average of 83% of all licensed nurses were employed.
  • Two-thirds of employed nurses were working full-time jobs.
  • More than one-fifth of all nurses planned to retire within the next five years.

At What Age Does a Nurse Retire?

The legal retirement age is as early as 62 years of age. However, that is considered an early retirement age by the Social Security Administration, so that the benefits will be reduced. Nurses who wait until full retirement age are eligible for full benefits, but those benefits will increase if they delay retirement until age 70.

Nursing Programs Can't Keep Up

Despite the now well-known fact that more nurses are needed to meet demand and fill positions of retired nurses, nursing programs are having trouble producing enough new nurses. It's not a lack of interest on the part of students. There's a lack of program availability as many nursing programs grapple with faculty shortages. 

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), in the 2020-2021 enrollment period, more than 90,000 qualified nursing student applicants were denied entry due to "an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints."

In 2022, the AACN released a report on faculty shortages that found a "total of 2,166 full-time faculty vacancies were identified in a survey of 909 nursing schools with baccalaureate and graduate programs across the country. Besides the vacancies, schools cited the need to create an additional 128 faculty positions to accommodate student demand. The data show a national nurse faculty vacancy rate of 8.8%. Most vacancies (84.9%) were faculty positions requiring or preferring a doctoral degree".

Do you have an interest in becoming a nurse educator? Find out more by reading our article, "Should I Become a Nurse Educator?" and consider becoming part of the solution!

Immigrant Nurses Recruited to Help Staffing Shortages

As the industry looks for long-term solutions to the shortage and works on retention and recruitment strategies, hospitals and facilities seek alternative staffing solutions for the present-day staffing concerns. PRN nursing staff and immigrant nurses are two choices to meet the need.

CGFNS International is a federally approved nonprofit organization to assess nursing credentials for foreign-educated nurses. Reportedly, foreign-born medical professionals comprise almost one-sixth of the U.S. nursing workforce.

The PRN Alternative for Nurses Who Want to Retire

There are many factors to consider when considering retirement, and often a large one is burnout. As mentioned above, delaying retirement until 70 can increase your benefits, but what if you don't want to keep your weekly schedule any longer? PRN nursing is an alternative to examine for those nurses thinking about or planning to retire.

Working PRN shifts are an excellent alternative to full-time staff employment. It allows you to continue to earn income and utilize your education and expertise, but with a new sort of freedom, staff positions don't offer.

When you download the PRN staff app, Nursa, you gain access to PRN shifts in various work settings for a diverse group of facilities that need your experience. Their gain is your experience. Your gain is the freedom to work wherever and whenever you want. For more information about working PRN, review the article "Before Nursing Retirement, Weigh Your Options."

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Blog published on:
November 17, 2022

Miranda is a Registered Nurse, Medical Fact Checker, and Publishing Editor at Nursa. Her work has been featured in publications including the American Nurses Association (ANA), Healthcare IT Outcomes, International Living, and more.

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