Colorado’s Nursing Shortage

As the largest single occupation within the healthcare delivery system, Colorado’s 61,000 licensed nurses (RNs, LPNs and Advanced Practice Nurses) are a critical element defining the capacity and nature of the state’s healthcare delivery system.  Fifty-nine percent of Colorado’s registered nurses are employed by hospitals; 21% are employed by ambulatory healthcare facilities (doctors’ offices, clinics, public health, etc.), and 6% are employed by nursing and residential care facilities. All indications are that the demand for nurses will increase over the coming decade.

Thirty-two percent (21,000) of Colorado’s nurses are over the age of 55; 4,500 active registered nurses are already over the age of 65. Even with the short term impact of the recession, 2,000 nurses are expected to retire annually over the next ten years. 

In addition to this annual replacement requirement is the need for additional nurses due to population growth, which is projected to be 1,300 per year[i], for an annual total need of 3,300 new nurses. In 2007-08, there were 2,400 Colorado nursing school graduates, or about 900 short of what is required.  If the state is to maintain its current capacity to deliver healthcare services, let alone expand it to meet a growing population and the demands of national healthcare reform, we must significantly expand the pipeline of new nurses.  Colorado can no longer rely on other states to educate our nurses, as it has in the past[ii], but must develop sufficient internal capacity to meet the needs of Colorado residents.

For a more expanded discussion of Colorado’s nursing and health care workforce, see the Centers recent report on this subject.


[i] Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, LMI occupation projection information

[ii] 60% of the registered nurses in the state received their education out-of-state (CHI 2005 study)