News & Events

Bush Administration Promotes Careers in Nursing

Survey Shows Critical Shortage of Nurses

With new evidence of a growing shortage of nurses, HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and Education Secretary Rod Paige today launched a campaign to encourage school children to consider careers in nursing and the health professions.

Secretary Thompson also released the final report of the 2000 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, which shows that the average age of the nation’s RNs continues to increase and the rate of nurses entering the profession has slowed over the past four years.

"We have a severe nursing shortage in this country and it’s absolutely critical that we encourage more of our nation’s students to choose careers in nursing," Secretary Thompson said. "Secretary Paige and I both want students to realize that nursing is an exciting and satisfying career that makes a difference in people’s lives."

"There is a growing national need for nurses, and we look forward to doing our part to address the shortage of qualified nurses in this country," Secretary Paige said. "By making students in America’s schools and postsecondary institutions aware of careers in the health professions, particularly nursing, we hope we can interest these outstanding young people in filling the critical need for qualified nurses."

Secretary Thompson unveiled "Kids into Health Careers"—an education campaign to attract more children’s interest in careers in nursing and the health professions—during a visit to Jefferson Junior High School in Washington, D.C.

"Now, for the first time, we are making available the kind of information parents, teachers and organizations need to motivate and encourage our nation’s promising young talent to pursue a career in the health professions," Secretary Thompson said.

The "Kids into Health Careers" tool kit has information on more than 270 health careers, such as nurse, physical therapist, x-ray technician, sports therapist and emergency medical technician. The kit includes information on the level of education preparation needed to pursue specific health careers, salary outlook and resources on obtaining financial assistance to pursue an education in the health professions.

There are hundreds of health career opportunities available, and not all of them require advanced college degrees. Many are attainable through six-month certificate programs, while others such as nursing may require a college degree. Organizations that receive health professions grants through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be required to reach out to schools in their local communities to get more kids involved in the health professions.

HHS’ nursing survey is the most extensive and comprehensive statistical resource on registered nurses with current licenses to practice in the United States. When compared to the 1980 survey, the new 2000 survey suggests that too few young people are choosing careers in nursing, and the average age of registered nurses has increased substantially. In 1980, 52.9 percent of RNs were under the age of 40, but by 2000, only 31.7 percent were under 40. In 1980, 26 percent of RNs were under the age of 30, but by 2000, less than 10 percent were under age 30.

The survey, conducted every four years by HRSA, also found that:

  •  the U.S. population increased by nearly 14 percent between 1990 and 2000, but the rate of nurses entering the workforce between 1996 and 2000 was just 4.1 percent, down from more than 14 percent between 1992 and 1996;
  • there are an estimated 2,696,540 active, licensed RNs in the United States, an increase of only 137,666 nurses from 1996;
  • 81.7 percent or 2,115,815 of active licensed RNs are employed in nursing;
  • 12.3 percent or 333,368 of all RNs reported being from one or more racial or ethnic minority backgrounds;
  • 5.9 percent of RNs employed in nursing are men, up from 5.4 percent in 1996; and
  • the number of nurses working in hospitals increased slightly from 1,270,870 in 1996 to 1,300,323 in 2000.

Early in his tenure, Secretary Thompson identified the nursing shortage as a critical national priority. In September, Secretary Thompson announced a new series of grants and contracts totaling more than $27.4 million to increase the number of qualified nurses and the quality of nursing services across the country. The awards will help ease the emerging shortage of qualified nurses available to provide essential health care services in many communities nationwide.

President Bush’s fiscal year 2003 budget proposes a total of $15 million, nearly a 50 percent increase above last year’s funding, to expand the Nursing Education Loan Repayment program to help address the nation’s growing need for nursing professionals. The increase will support 800 new nursing education loan repayment agreements. The program repays a substantial portion of the education loans of nurses who agree to work for two years in designated public or nonprofit health facilities. A funding preference is given to nurses who have the greatest financial need and who agree to serve in health facilities located in geographic areas with a shortage of nurses.

The 2000 nursing survey report is available at

More information about "Kids into Health Careers" is available at