While the retiring baby-boomer nurses have warned of a dangerous nursing shortage, the number of full-time registered nurses aged 23 to 26 increased by 62% between 2002 and 2009, according to this month’s Health Affairs.

At least 900,000 of the nation’s roughly 3 million nurses are older than 50 and nearing retirement. Compounding the situation are the baby boomers in the rest of the population who are aging and developing more chronic diseases. The number of nurses in their 20s dropped steadily through the 1980s and 1990s, bottoming out in 2002.

But by 2009, there were 165,000 full-time equivalent nurses aged 23 to 26, reported lead investigators. If these young nurses continue to follow the same life-cycle employment patterns as those before them, they will be the largest group of registered nurses observed. The nurse workforce is projected to grow faster during the next 2 decades than previously anticipated. The question is: will this be enough to meet the growing demand and ensure quality patient care?