Rounds With Leadership: A 2020 View of the Nursing Workforce

Published January 29, 2020

Welcome to Rounds with Leadership, a forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

January 29, 2020 - A 2020 View of the Nursing Workforce

2020 is clearly a year of high expectations for all of us in the nursing profession. For starters, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. WHO and its partner organizations, which include the International Confederation of Midwives, International Council of Nurses, Nursing Now, and the United Nations Population Fund, have launched a year-long celebration of the pivotal role nurses play in sustaining global health. Watch for multiple special events this year spotlighting nurses and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.

In addition, 2020 is the target year for achieving the recommendations put forth in the Institute of Medicine’s landmark Future of Nursing report, which was released 10 years ago. The expert committee that produced this report made two recommendations of special interest to nurse educators: increase the number of baccalaureate prepared nurses in the workforce to 80% and double the number of nurses with doctoral degrees.  Now that 2020 is here, we have much to celebrate.

Collectively, we have met the goal to increase the number of nurses with doctoral degrees, due largely to the rapid rise in the number of graduates from Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. According to the Center to Champion Nursing in America, we met this goal in 2017 when the number of doctorally prepared nurses in the workforce reached more than 28,000.  Using AACN data, we can confirm that more than 7,000 students graduated with a PhD and almost 40,000 students with a DNP since 2010. Though we should applaud this achievement, we must now focus our collective attention on expanding enrollment in PhD programs given the dip in student enrollments over the last few years.

Regarding baccalaureate prepared nurses in the workforce, we have made great headway, even though we have not yet hit the 80% mark. Using just-released data from the latest National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration, we have seen the percentage of nurses with baccalaureate and higher degrees grow from 51% to 64%. Our efforts to expand enrollment in professional nursing programs are working, and increasingly, employers are looking for nurses with more advanced education. Yet we have more work to do if we are to accommodate the more than 60,000 qualified applications that are turned away from our programs each year due to lack of faculty and clinical sites. We strongly encourage you to review the initial findings from the latest Sample Survey, which indicate the population of registered nurses is growing larger, more diverse, and more highly educated.

This year, AACN looks forward to helping our members achieve even greater levels of success as we work together to raise the education level of the nursing workforce. We are here to serve as a key collaborator in this work as we redouble our efforts to be the authoritative source for knowledge, data, and information related to academic nursing.