Nurses in the Workforce

The nation’s 4.3 million registered nurses work in every aspect of health care and are crucial in delivering care, evolving health care systems locally and nationally, closing health disparities, and improving the nation’s health. Harnessing the full power and promise of nurses and the nursing profession depends on addressing complex issues such as:

  • Building an adequate supply of nurses;
  • Creating Safe, empowering, and healthy work environments;
  • Public policy that supports quality health care;
  • Laws and regulations that enable nurses to practice at the full extent of their education and licensure.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing shortages occurred on and off due to factors such as economic downturns, waves of retiring nurses, and increased health care demand.

As the pandemic hit in March 2020, nurses, who represent the largest group of health care professionals in the country, already were under strain due to factors such as:

  • Retirements outpacing new entrants to the field;
  • Increased demand for health care from aging and chronic disease populations;
  • Inadequate workforce support


During the pandemic, demand for RNs surged. This combined with other existing factors to considerably worsen the nursing shortage and expose the workplace challenges nurses face. Nurses are under immense stress and feel the full weight of an overburdened, poorly functioning health care system.

About the Supply of Nurses

Rising Openings and Employment—The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 194,500 average annual openings for registered nurses between 2020 and 2030, with employment projected to grow 9%.

Accelerating Retirements—In 2020, the median age of RNs was 52 years with more than one-fifth indicating intent to retire from nursing over the next 5 years, according to the 2020 National Council of State Boards of Nursing and National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers national survey of the US nursing workforce. The pandemic has accelerated this trend.

More On The Nursing Shortage And Workforce

These organizations offer resources, data and statistics on the number of RNs, RN licenses, employment, and nursing school enrollment:

The Future

To address the on-going pandemic and changing patient demographics and its demands on the health care system, more nurses will be needed in practice areas such as telehealth, home health, long-term care and rehabilitation, and outpatient care centers.

ANA closely monitors, analyzes, and acts on federal legislation, policies, and rulemaking involving the nursing workforce, work environment, shortage, and practice authority. We collaborate with our constituent and state nurses associations on how federal actions could impact state and local jurisdictions. In turn, C/SNAs closely follow activities in their states and communities, and they apprise ANA about these developments so that together, we have a global picture of policy and regulatory trends that affect the nursing profession. Learn more about ANA’s advocacy efforts.