TAN Issue: January/February 2000: Miscellaneous: National Sample Survey Coming in March

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by Ayah E. Johnson, PhD

One of the pivotal tools used to assess the characteristics, supply and adequacy of the nursing workforce is up-to-date information from the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN). The NSSRN is the nation's most extensive and comprehensive source of statistics on all RNs currently licensed to practice in the U.S., whether or not they are actively employed in nursing.

Close to 2.5 million RNs were licensed to practice in the United States and about 2.1 million were employed in nursing in 1996. This number of employed RNs reflects a 13 percent increase in the number of RNs from 1992, and a 31 percent increase in the number of RNs from 1988. In 1996, about 60 percent worked in hospitals and more than 1.5 million RNs reported working full time.

The Division of Nursing, housed in the Bureau of Health Professions at the Health Resources and Services Administration in the Department of Health and Human Services, conducts the study. To date, the division has conducted six sample surveys: 1977, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. The NSSRN 2000 will be mailed in March. If you receive the survey, please complete it promptly and mail it back in the postage-paid envelope.

Conducting the survey

The number of RNs in the nation is too large to allow for collecting data from every RN. The NSSRN 2000 is based on a scientific sample of about 54,000 RNs that represents RNs licensed in each of the states. RNs selected to participate in the sample are asked to complete a questionnaire. Their responses are entered into a database and analyzed to describe the nursing profession's characteristics.

The sample survey questionnaire has been developed to provide an integrated, in-depth picture of the RN workforce in the United States. For example, a section of the questionnaire asks about the educational preparation of the individual RN. Another section pertains to the employment characteristics of the nurses, including the type of employment setting, the nature of the nursing positions, the hours worked and respective earnings and/or salaries. For those not employed in nursing, information is obtained on their employment status.

Who uses the data?

Once it has completed its analysis and published the findings, the division uses the data from the sample survey in economic models forecasting the supply and requirements of the nursing workforce till the year 2020 as it plans for appropriate educational resources. Other federal, state and local government departments and agencies, as well as congressional offices, use the sample survey as the key source of background data on RNs. Professional organizations, regulatory bodies and individual nurses rely on the sample survey results for average compensation rates, estimates of the number of nurses in their region and educational distribution of the workforce.

Please complete the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses questionnaire if it arrives in your mailbox. You will help improve the quality of information about the nursing workforce and help influence policy to assure an adequate supply and distribution of qualified and culturally diverse nursing personnel to meet the health care needs of the 21st century.

Ayah E. Johnson is chief of the National Nursing Workforce Unit at the Division of Nursing.