National Estimates of the Reserve Capacity of Registered Nurses Not Currently Employed in Nursing and Emergency Nursing Job Mobility in the United States


Castner J, Bell SA, Castner M, Couig MP. Ann Emerg Med. 2021;78(2):201-211. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2021.03.006


Study objective: In a large-scale disaster, recruiting from all retired and nonworking registered nurses is one strategy to address surge demands in the emergency nursing workforce. The purpose of this research was to estimate the workforce capacity of all registered nurses who are not currently working in the nursing field in the United States by state of residence and to describe the job mobility of emergency nurses.

Methods: Weighted population estimates were calculated using the 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. Estimates of all registered nurses, including nurse practitioners who were not actively working in nursing as well as only those who were retired, based on demographics, place of residence, and per 1,000 state population, were visualized on choropleth maps. Workforce mobility into and out of the emergency nursing specialty between 2016 and 2017 was quantified.

Results: Of the survey participants, 61% (weighted n=2,413,382) worked full time as registered nurses at the end of both 2016 and 2017. At the end of 2017, 17.3% (weighted n=684,675) were not working in nursing. The Great Lakes states and Maine demonstrated the highest per capita rate of those not working in nursing, including those who had retired. The largest proportion of those entering the emergency nursing specialty were newly licensed nurses (15%; weighted n=33,979).

Conclusion: There is an additional and reserve capacity available for recruitment that may help to meet the workforce needs for nursing, specifically emergency nurses and nurse practitioners, across the United States under conditions of a large-scale disaster. The results from this study may be used by the emergency care sector leaders to inform policies, workforce recruitment, workforce geographic mobility, new graduate nurse training, and job accommodation strategies to fully leverage the potential productive human capacity in emergency department care for registered nurses who are not currently working.