A shortage of registered nurses in the first two years of the pandemic was probably temporary, according to a new report. That’s because the workforce rebounded in 2022 and 2023, the authors said. Even still, a lot of RNs aren’t going back to hospitals and are moving into other settings including nursing homes and long-term care communities, authors of the report said.

The study, published on Feb. 16 in JAMA Health Forum, noted that the workforce of RNs fell by about 100,000 employees in 2021. That decrease was the largest drop in a single year in the past 40 years. In 2022, hiring started to go back up, according to data from the US Bureau of the Census Current Population Survey. 

The data included RNs between the ages of 23 and 69 who were employed between 1982 and 2023. The researchers also used another cohort of data on employment trends by birth year and age to project the age distribution and employment of RNs through the year 2035. There were 455,085 RNs included in the study. In 2022 and 2023, there were 3.35 million full-time RNs, which is 6% higher than in 2019 when there were 3.16 million nurses.

By 2035, the authors said the workforce of RNs will grow by 1.2 million to 4.5 million full-time nurses. This aligns with forecasts made before the pandemic. About 47% of the nurses in 2035 will be between 35 and 49 years old. In 2022, RNs in that age range made up 38% of the workforce.

“This forecast suggests that the pandemic’s impact on employed RNs, at least thus far, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the future growth of the overall RN workforce,” the authors said.

Growth from 2018 to 2023 did note some shifts in nurses, as most of the growth was in nonhospital settings. That could signal that RNs are headed away from hospitals to ambulatory and community settings, including nursing homes. 

“This shift may help explain why some hospitals have reported shortages of RNs, despite robust growth of the overall workforce in 2022 and 2023,” the authors said.