A Look at Nursing in Colorado

A look at nursing in Colorado -- an infographic

Are you interested in pursuing a nearly recession-proof career with high growth expectations in Colorado? Do you want to help improve the welfare of people in your state? If so, consider a future in nursing.

National Demand for Nurses Is on the Rise

Nationally, nursing jobs occupy many of the top slots in the U.S. News 100 Best Jobs Rankings. The industry’s impressive representation on this list should continue because nursing employment is likely to grow 16 percent — more than double the average rate of national job growth — through 2024. 439,300 new nurses will be necessary to keep pace with this need.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that “The U.S. is projected to experience a shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) that is expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for healthcare grows.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites “an increased emphasis on preventive care; growing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity; and demand for healthcare services from the baby-boom population” as driving forces for nursing occupation growth. The BLS also cites rising access to health insurance due to healthcare reform, though the details of reform may change yet again.

Colorado Has an Even Stronger Need for Nurses

The need for qualified nurses in Colorado is arguably greater than the national demand. The Health Resources & Services Administration’s report on The Future of the Nursing Workforce: National- and State-Level Projections, 2012-2025 forecasts an alarming nurse shortage in Colorado. The state is one of 22 that will likely see demand outpace supply. By 2025, the state will need 59,000 registered nurses, but analysts project the supply will be only 46,100. The problem may be even more urgent than the projected shortage for 2025 suggests.

The Colorado Health Professionals Workforce Policy Collaborative reports that Colorado needs 1,780 more nurses — now — to reach the national average nurse-to-population ratio. This figure aligns with the National League for Nursing‘s conservative estimates, which show that the state will be short 6,300 RNs by 2018. Conditions could worsen if the state is unable to bring in qualified nurses from other states — a challenge given the other shortages across the country. These estimates equate to considerable career potential for aspiring nurses who want to help Colorado meet its medical care needs.

The Colorado Nursing Center advises that in order to meet demand, full enrollment in state nursing programs over the next few years is essential. Fortunately, the state has an excellent higher education system with well-respected nursing degree programs that offer students opportunities to train with prominent professors and physicians.

Graduates of these programs will first replace an expected wave of retiring Baby Boomers, who typically retire around age 58. Currently, 32 percent of the state’s licensed RNs are over the age of 55. The state’s population is also likely to expand by one million over the next decade, including close to 400,000 seniors over the age of 65. State nursing programs will need to produce even more graduates to address the increasing healthcare needs of this segment of the state population. The number of under-insured or uninsured people is more difficult to project, but these people will likely gain access to care as well. All of these people will require more registered nurses in hospitals, urgent care centers, doctors’ offices, community clinics and other service facilities.

What Is Colorado Doing to Address the Shortage?

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are now 58,347 licensed registered nurses in Colorado. Interestingly, SalaryGenius reports a 50/50 split between male and female nurses in Colorado. The state’s need for nurses has outpaced its supply, and the gap will continue to grow unless public, private and educational entities take corrective action, according to the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence.

In conjunction with the national Future of Nursing campaign, an effort to raise standards of nursing care, Colorado has formed a State Action Coalition to help fulfill its role. One of the most important objectives of this initiative is to see at least 80 percent of the nursing workforce in the state hold a bachelor of science in nursing degree (BSN) by 2020.

The State Action Coalition aims to reach this number through programs like the Colorado Mesa University RN to BSN Online. This is a tremendous challenge that includes over two million hours of student nurse clinical experiences statewide, in addition to academic credit hours. These programs will provide a talent pipeline to the institutions that need them, which should result in improved care for patients and long-term employment opportunities for graduates.

Among the organizations collaborating in these efforts, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies is the umbrella organization presiding over the Division of Professions and Occupations Nursing Board. This team maintains licensing standards in the state, while Colorado’s membership in the Nurse Licensure Compact helps to facilitate the transition of nurses into Colorado from other states in the Compact.

The Colorado Student Nurses Association and the Colorado Nurses Association are two independent agencies that provide forums and resources for nursing students and professionals, including networking opportunities.

Salaries of Colorado Nurses

Colorado is one of the fastest growing states in the country, with relatively low unemployment and high compensation across all fields. The average annual salary for a registered nurse in Colorado is $67,920, according to the Nurse Salary Guide, which is in line with the national average. For a more specific look at BSN nurse salaries, Salary Genius breaks down income by position or degrees held in major metropolitan areas.

A BSN nurse in Denver earns an average annual salary of $73,493. That represents an increase of 42 percent over the $51,576 average salary of LPN nurses. The site suggests, “If you are just beginning to work a new job as a BSN Nurse in Denver, you could earn a starting pay rate of $60,524 annually.”

Salaries rise with experience, and BSN nurses make an average of $86,462 after several years on the job. By contrast, LPNs in Denver make an average income of around $60,889 after several years on the job — roughly the same as a first year BSN graduate. Top salaries for BSN nurses run up to $103,755.

The Case for a BSN in Colorado

Salary is only part of the story. Colorado ranks 16 among all 50 states (51 counting the District of Columbia) in the Wallethub 2016 Best & Worst States for Nurses. This study factors in job opportunities, projected competition, work environment and commute times — as well as many other factors. Colorado ranks #14 for work environment.

While you can enjoy a lucrative and sustainable career in Colorado as an RN with an associate’s degree, nurses with a BSN often have more responsibility and enjoy higher salaries. Given that the state has a mandate to educate nurses and produce more BSN graduates, this is becoming the new educational standard for employers.

The good news is that you can earn this degree in an online RN-BSN program as you continue to work. This is an investment in your career and in the health and welfare of Colorado.

Learn more about the Colorado Mesa online RN to BSN program.


U.S. News and World Report: The 100 Best Jobs

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Nursing Shortage

BLS: Registered Nurses

Salary Genius: BSN Nurse Salary in Denver, Colorado

HRSA: The Future of the Nursing Workforce: National- and State-Level Projections, 2012-2025

Kaiser Family Foundation: Total Number of Professionally Active Nurses

Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence: Colorado’s Nursing Shortage

Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence: Quick Facts on Nursing Supply and Demand

CaringforColorado.org: Health Professions Workforce

AACN Colorado State Profile

Nurse Salary Guide: Nurse Salary in Colorado

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