With almost three million registered nurses, the United States is the largest English-speaking nursing labour market in the world. Attracted by career prospects not available in their own countries, many nurses emigrate to the US, which also has the highest number of nurses working in advanced practice.
A few years ago, the US was projecting nursing shortages in the hundreds of thousands. Much like the UK, the reported causes were an ageing workforce and an increase in demand.
But latest projections from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now point to a very different future. A December 2014 HHS report highlighted the end of any national shortage of nurses by 2025.
The main driver of this is the huge growth in the number of new nurses being trained in the US. The annual number of new nursing graduates entering the US labour market has more than doubled between 2001 and 2012, while the UK managed a growth of a quarter.
Much like the UK, the US has more people attracted to a professional nursing career than it has the capacity to train, meaning suitably qualified applicants are turned away every year. But the US has been able to grow its ability to absorb these applicants through an increase in nurse education capacity. Much of this growth has been in the ‘for profit’ education sector, which is often funded by nurses themselves.
At a time when shortages in the UK are driving an increase in international recruitment, the scale of growth in domestic training of nurses in the US reminds us that there are alternatives for high-income countries aiming for a more sustainable future nursing workforce.