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What Draws Millennials to Nursing?

"What made you decide to be a nurse?" I have a love-hate relationship with that question. I love it because I enjoy hearing why others chose this awesome profession. I get goosebumps when nurses talk about it being their 'calling' or the idea that they have dreamed of it since they were three years old. I hate it because, frankly, I don't have a great story for why I chose it. Am I alone in this? In a recent interview with Rural Health Leadership Radio, I, unfortunately, had to admit this to the whole world during a podcast! I dread getting asked that question because I never felt it as a ''calling' in life. What?! As a nurse, can I even say that? What I mean is that before becoming a nurse, I never felt that strong inner impulse towards nursing. There was no divine influence (that I was aware of anyway) that brought me down this path; however, that doesn't necessarily mean that it wasn't what I was called to do even if I didn't realize it at the time. 

In our last blog post we talked about Four Reasons Why New Nurses Leave, but how big of a deal is it? Before we get into how nurse residency programs can help us with retention, let’s take a little closer look at this generation and how they are being called to the profession. 

In an article published by Health Affairs in 2011, trends were outlined for young registered nurses ages 23-26 who are entering the workforce. The article shows RNs ages 23-26 dramatically decreased by nearly 50% between 1979 and 1991 from a peak of more than 190,000 full-time equivalents in 1979 to below 111,000 in 1991. The number of young RNs remained low throughout the 90s, falling to as low as 102,000 in 2002. Since 2002, however, the number of young registered nurses has grown at a rate not seen since the 1970s. Between 2002 and 2009 the number of full-time RNs ages 23-26 increased by nearly 62% to 165,000. This trend suggests that nurses born in the millennial generation will far surpass those of the baby boomer generation. 1

In an article published by the same source six years later (in October of 2017), the idea was reinforced showing that millennials were twice as likely to be registered nurses as baby boomers were. Millennials born in the late 1980s were 65% more likely to become an RN, compared to those born in 1955. 2  

This is a good thing! We need this. You have heard me say it before. We are a profession nearly three-million strong, but 45% of those almost three-million nurses are 50 years or older with the average age being 47.3 This means that 1.5 million nurses in our current workforce will have the option to retire in the next 15-20 years! We will need this upswing in young nurses entering the workforce to replace our baby boomers. 

Is it possible that all these millennials are getting 'called' into nursing by divine intervention or could there be another reason? Maybe I am not so alone after all. Through my exploration of this topic, I have found several reasons why millennials may be entering the profession, and while I don't have any hard facts or data to back this up, I think more of them are like me than I previously believed. 

Feature #1 – Stability
Auerbach and colleagues identified the fact that many of these millennials are coming of age in a time of economic uncertainty. Nursing has historically been known to have a stable income and low unemployment rates. This stability and higher income is a big attraction to millennials. 2   

I mean, who doesn't want a good-paying job that is in high demand right after college? As I said earlier, I wasn't one of those that were called to be a nurse since I was three, but instead, it was the stability of the profession that attracted me the most.

Feature #2 – Meaningful Work
Research shows that millennials are generally drawn to meaningful work. Millennials want to not only do their job, but they want what they are doing to be meaningful and contribute to the greater good of those they are working with, their profession, and the world. 2  Technically, being a millennial myself, I can completely relate to this. I'm not going to do things just for the sake of doing things. What I am doing must have purpose and meaning. If I have a purpose, I work passionately and give it 110% until the goal is achieved. 

Features #3 – Opportunities for Change
Millennials love change! They are attracted to nursing due to the opportunities to change positions and take on different roles. 2  If they want to work with kids, that can be done on an inpatient unit, in the clinic setting, or even at a school. They can bring life into this world and support those who are exiting. They can work with the critically ill or in the area of prevention and wellness. They can lead, teach, inspire, write books, and start businesses. Not only can they do all those things, but almost all of them can happen in every village, town, city, state, country, and continent on this planet. While I am not one to roam the world like many millennials, I do agree with the attractiveness of the never-ending possibilities of what I can do with my nursing degree no matter where life takes me.    

Feature #4 – Quick Growth
Millennials are also attracted to nursing due to the opportunity to grow quickly. Millennials want to grow, develop, and take on the next challenge – and they want to do it quickly. They are fine with putting in their time but aren't okay with being at the bottom of the totem pole for 20 years before having the opportunity to do so. They are eager, have ideas, skills, and they want to put those to good use within their first three to five years of their career. And guess what? Nursing needs that kind of ambition! We have lots of leadership shoes to fill in the next 10-15 years so we need nurses who have the drive, ambition, and skills to transition quickly to these areas. 

Okay, so now maybe I don’t feel so bad when I think about my reasons for becoming a nurse. When you look at these awesome features nursing has to offer, it is no wonder we have seen this influx into the profession and that I was one of them!  There aren't many professions that allow you to do all these things from anywhere in the world. This is great news for our nursing workforce, yet it is not without its own set of challenges. 

Join us next time as we explore how the attractiveness of our profession might be the reason our nurse leaders can't sleep at night. 

Nicole Weathers
Program Manager, IONRP



1. Auerbauch, D., Buerhaus, P., and Staiger, D. (2011).  Registered nurse supply grows faster than projected amid surge in new entrants ages 23-26.  Health Affairs 30 (12).  Retrieved:

2.  Auerbauch, D., Buerhaus, P., and Staiger, D. (2017).  Millennials almost twice as likely to be registered nurses as baby boomers were.  Health Affairs 36(10).

3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2010, July 27). Facts about the nursing workforce. Retrieved from

Posted On: 
Dec 3rd, 2018