Registered nurses (RNs) are essential to providing care in the healthcare system. To date, research on the relationship between healthcare provider supply and population health has focused on physician supply. This study explored the effect of RN supply on population health outcomes in the U.S. This is a retrospective, cross-sectional study of U.S. counties and county equivalents using national data. Seven population health outcomes (total and disease specific mortalities and low infant birth weight rate) were the response variables. The predictor variable, RN supply, and some control variables were anticipated to have an asynchronous effect on the seven outcome variables in the hypothesized relationship. Therefore, these variables were examined using three different models: contemporaneous; a three-year lagged; and a distributed lag (both contemporaneous and lagged variables). Quadratic terms for RN and physician supply variables were included. Because the Area Health Resource File (AHRF) outcome variables were skewed toward zero and left censored, Tobit regression analyses were used. Data were obtained from 19 states using historical RN Supply data for 1,472 counties, representing 47% of the total target population of 3,108 U.S. counties and county equivalents. Regions with rural populations—the Midwest and Southeast—were overrepresented. Higher RN supply is positively related to higher mortality rates from ischemic heart disease, other cardiovascular disease, and chronic lower respiratory disease in the distributed lag models. Higher RN supply is not significantly related to rates of low infant birth weight, infant mortality, or mortality from cerebrovascular disease in any model. Higher RN supply is positively related to total deaths in the contemporaneous and lagged model. The results suggest a counter-intuitive, but non-linear relationship between RN supply and health outcomes. More research is needed to understand these relationships and policies must be devised to reduce the current and growing future RN shortage.


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Graduation Date





Unruh, Lynn


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Health and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Public Affairs; Health Services Management and Research









Release Date

May 2019

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)