Rounds with Leadership: The State of the Nursing Workforce


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. 

As academic nursing leaders, we recognize the value of surveying the healthcare and higher education landscape to better understand workforce trends and employment projections. Reviewing relevant data is critical to understanding who is pursuing nursing careers, where they are working, and patterns related to academic progression. Having a clear picture of today’s nursing workforce is essential to shaping curriculum, setting enrollment targets, adapting clinical learning experiences, and preparing more practice-ready nurses.

On March 21, leaders with the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) held a press conference in Washington, DC to announce findings from its 2022 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN).  Since 1977, HRSA has conducted this extensive survey effort to better understand the nursing population, including trends related to education, nurse demographics, work environments, and job satisfaction among many other areas of inquiry. The latest NSSRN was conducted by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis (NCHWA), in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Based on responses from nearly 50,000 respondents, HRSA found that the nursing workforce is becoming more diverse and more highly educated, with a total population of 4,394,377 licensed registered nurses (RNs). With RNs expressing less satisfaction with their jobs in 2022 than they did in pre-pandemic 2018, workforce analysts project an increasing shortage across nursing occupations through 2036.

Highlighted in the 2022 survey, AACN was pleased to see that the education level of the nursing workforce continues to rise.  For the first time, the NSSRN reports that the baccalaureate degree was the most common degree for RNs entering the workforce. The latest data show that 45.4% of RNs received their initial licensure to practice as a nurse after completing a baccalaureate degree. New baccalaureate-prepared nurses were younger and more diverse (race/ethnicity) than nurses beginning their careers with an associate degree. Other key findings related to education include:

  • From 2018 to 2022, the number of licensed RNs entering the profession with a graduate degree increased from 35,646 to 114,088.
  • 40.2% of RNs completed a second degree or advanced certificate since joining the workforce.
  • 17.3% of RNs who entered the workforce with a baccalaureate degree went on to obtain a master’s degree and 2.9% obtained a doctorate.
  • 20.7% of the workforce completed an RN residency or transition-to-practice program.

New Resources Available

To assist stakeholders in understanding NSSRN findings, the NCHWA created an online Nursing Workforce Dashboard to visualize data from both the 2022 and 2018 surveys. This dashboard presents data on education, work environments, demographics, hours, earnings, job categories (including APRNS), and much more. This resource is free and offers access to 400,000 unique data points, providing a comprehensive overview of the state of today’s nursing workforce.

In addition, HRSA has compiled three succinct report briefs focused on Nursing Education and Training, the Experiences of Nurses Working during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Job Satisfaction among Registered Nurses. Watch for the next Rounds with Leadership column in April for a deeper dive into findings from the latest RN sample survey.