Registered nurse

Nursing makes a comeback: Just in time?

December 28, 2011: 12:48 PM ET

There has been a recent spike in interest in nursing among young people. Will the trend hold and fill the health care gaps to come?

By Elizabeth G. Olson, contributornurses

FORTUNE – Just a few years ago, if you asked a soon-to-be college graduate what career she had her eyes on, you'd be sure to hear usual suspects like management consulting, investment banking, maybe law school. One option you would not hear? Nursing. Not so today.

Nursing, once viewed as an important but not necessarily upwardly mobile field, has made a comeback, as younger people have come to view it as a safe, secure path.

In the last decade, the number of young people (most of them women) between 23 and 26 years old to enter the field jumped by 62%, says David Auerbach, a health economist at RAND Health in Boston. "This is a striking trend," says Auerbach, who conducted RAND's study. "We are now growing the supply of nurses, and not worrying about a decline."

The findings point to a turnaround after a several-decade decline in interest in nursing. In fact, nurses from other countries were recruited to the U.S. to meet care-giving needs as health-care providers faced real-time shortages and estimates that shortfalls would reach 20%, or 400,000 registered nurses, by 2020.

Currently, those who earn a nursing baccalaureate -- meaning four years of college -- have more than a 60% hiring rate at graduation, which is almost 2.5 times the rate of general college graduate hiring, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More

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