2014 Edition — California Nurses

Taking the pulse

Timothy Bates, Healthforce Center at UCSF
Joanne Spetz, Healthforce Center at UCSF


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California is home to more than 300,000 actively licensed registered nurses (RNs), making nursing the single largest health profession in the state. Over the past 15 years the number of RNs has steadily increased, although the RNs-per-capita ratio has remained significantly lower than the national average.

With the state’s aging population and the implementation of health reform, demand for health care services is likely to increase. This report provides an overview of California’s nursing workforce in 2012, including supply and demographics, education, distribution, and compensation.

Key findings include:

  • The nursing workforce has grown more diverse. Non-white RNs accounted for almost half (47%) of employed nurses in 2012. However, compared to the state’s population, Latinos were significantly underrepresented in the RN workforce, while Filipinos and whites were significantly overrepresented.
  • New student enrollments in California’s prelicensure nursing programs nearly doubled from 2002 to 2011. The number of Asian students grew 154% over that time.
  • The prelicensure programs for RNs produced 10,814 graduates in 2012, down from a high of 11,512 in 2009.
  • California’s RN workforce continues to rely on foreign-educated nurses. In 2012, about one in five employed RNs was trained outside the US.
  • Fifty-six percent of employed RNs worked in a hospital acute-care setting in 2012. Another 8% were in hospital ambulatory care.
  • Nurses’ average income was almost $90,000 in 2012, compared to $56,000 in 1990. However, there was wide variation from region to region, with the Greater Bay Area seeing the highest income and the Northern and Sierra region the lowest.
  • Growth in licensed vocational nurse (LVN) programs was strong from 2000 to 2010, but has since dropped off. in 2012, nearly two-thirds of LVN graduates came from private, for-profit schools.

The full report, and all the charts found in the report, are available for download below. These materials are part of CHCF’s California Health Care Almanac, an online clearinghouse for key data and analyses describing the state’s health care landscape. See our entire collection of current and past editions of California’s Health Care Workforce.