Nursing & Healthcare News

California “Silver Wave” Nursing Shortage

UCSF report warns of current shortfall driven by retirement of older RNs

Older nurse stands looking down with her hand on her face. She is wearing light blue scrubs and a stethoscope.

The long-predicted “Silver Wave” of nurse retirements — and shortages — is finally hitting California. A recent report estimates that the state’s demand for registered nurses exceeded the supply by 13.6 percent in 2021.

Retirements Accelerate

The report, prepared by researchers at UCSF Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care, is based on data from the BRN’s latest California Annual Schools Survey and the 2020 Survey of California Registered Nurses (which had not yet been published as of press time).

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That data reveals that employment rates for older California nurses dropped significantly between 2018 and 2020: by five percentage points for nurses 55–59, seven percentage points for nurses 60–64 and nine percentage points for nurses 65 and older.

That decline appears to reflect older licensed RNs retiring or leaving the profession. Moreover, the percentage of nurses 55–64 who reported planning to retire or leave nursing in the next two years climbed from 11.4 percent in 2018 to 25.2 percent in 2020.

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Workforce Planning Challenges

While nursing school enrollment numbers generally bode well for the future of the state’s nursing workforce, the declines in current employment appear to have created a shortfall that it will take some time for nurse training programs to fill.

The report’s authors estimate that in 2021, California’s demand for registered nurses exceeded the current supply by 13.6 percent — more than 40,000 full-time equivalents. Based on current trends, it will take another five years for the influx of newly trained nurses to make up this shortage.

In the meantime, says lead author Joanne Spetz, Ph.D., healthcare employers need to look for ways to “address older RNs’ burnout and keep them in the workplace part-time to help onboard the new grads.”

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