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Study finds nursing workforce is growing and diversifying

The number of licensed registered nurses in the United States grew to a new high of 3.1 million between 2004 and 2008, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The increase of more than 5 percent also reflects growing diversity in the backgrounds of U.S. nurses, according to a report by the HRSA. The survey found that in 2008, 16.8 percent of nurses were Asian, Black/African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native and/or Hispanic, an increase from 12.2 percent in 2004. The two largest groups represented were non-Hispanic Asian (5.5 percent) and non-Hispanic Black/African-American (5.4 percent).

"We are encouraged by growth in the numbers and diversity of registered nurses, and HRSA is committed to continuing this trend to ensure an adequate supply and distribution of nurses in the future," said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield." She said an estimated 444,668 RNs received their first U.S. license between 2004 and 2008.

The National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses is published every four years by the HRSA's Bureau of Health Professions. The report includes comparisons from eight recurring surveys taken in 1980 through 2008. The 2008 survey was sent to 55,171 nurses with active RN licenses, with representation from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In addition to the diversity increases, the survey found that half of all RNs had a baccalaureate or higher degree in nursing or a nursing-related field in 2008, compared to 27.5 percent in 1980. The number of RNs with Master's or Doctorate degrees rose to 404,163 in 2008, an increase of 46.9 percent from 2004 and up from 85,860 in 1980.

The average age of licensed RNs increased to 47 years in 2008 from 46.8 in 2004. Wakefield said this represents a stabilization after many years of continuing large increases in average age. Nearly 45 percent of RNs were 50 years or older in 2008, a dramatic increase from 33 percent in 2000 and 25 percent in 1980.

Average annual earnings for RNs in 2008 were $66,973. RNs' salaries rose almost 15.9 percent since 2004, which slightly outpaced inflation.

The HRSA, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency providing policy direction and grant support for health profession workforce development. The agency plans to release a final report with the complete nursing survey findings this summer.

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