This is part two of a four-part series examining various aspects of the nursing shortage. Part one provided a historical perspective and examined conflicting predictions as to how much of a shortage we actually face. Since industry forecasts tend to influence health policy decisions—as well as YOUR career choices—it’s important to understand the forces at play in today’s nursing labor market.
Are you looking for a nursing job? If so, here’s the good news: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected 19 percent growth in the job market for RNs between 2012 and 2022, compared to only 11 percent growth for the job market as a whole. But there’s also a twist: the market currently favors highly experienced, seasoned nurses. This became especially pronounced during the recent recession, when entry-level nurses had a difficult time finding work, as older nurses delayed retirement or returned to the workforce. In short, even when there’s an overall deficit of nurses, employers tend to hold out for the most highly qualified candidates.
A 2015 article in Comstock’s titled “Plight of the Novice Nurse” discussed this situation as it is playing out in California, saying “It’s not uncommon for recent graduates to wait six months or more to land a job in a local hospital. Many are still unemployed in the field.” Within the article, a newly licensed RN was quoted as saying, “The acute care hospitals want you to have two years of experience, but you can’t go anywhere to get experience because no one will hire you without experience.” It’s the classic conundrum, and it’s leaving many younger nurses wondering how there can possibly be a nursing shortage if they can’t land a job. As discussed in part one of this series, some staffing specialists are referring to this deficit of seasoned nurses as “the new nursing shortage.”
So what happens when new graduates can’t find work in acute care hospitals? Many take positions that are less desirable to them, often in long-term care or rehabilitation facilities. This segment of the job market is wide open, as hospitals are releasing patients earlier and many aren’t able to go right home. Ultimately, some of these RNs will join the high numbers of dissatisfied young nurses who leave the profession entirely within just a few years of becoming licensed—adding to any shortage that currently exists.
Perhaps a better option is the nurse residency programs that are springing up in hospitals all over. These structured programs can provide a safe environment for novices to gain real-life skills and bridge the gap between education and professional nursing practice. They are typically paid positions that last about a year and result in full-time jobs for those who complete the residency successfully.
New technology-based roles are also presenting good opportunities to young nurses. Industry analysts say there is a massive shortage of health informatics workers, particularly those with a clinical background. By specializing in tech-based care or nursing informatics, new graduates can make this shortage work in their favor. They’ll almost certainly have a competitive edge over more senior nurses who may be less interested or proficient in technology.
And finally, remember that education also plays into experience. Many, if not most, hospitals now give preference to new graduates with a BSN degree. In its landmark report, The Future of Nursing, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) noted that, “Although a BSN education is not a panacea for all that is expected of nurses in the future, it does, relative to other educational pathways, introduce students to a wider range of competencies in such arenas as health policy and health care financing, community and public health, leadership, quality improvement and systems thinking.” The IOM has called for 80 percent of America’s nursing workforce to be educated at least the BSN level by 2020.
Looking ahead: Believe it or not, nursing schools are turning away thousands of qualified candidates, even though there’s a projected nursing shortage in the years ahead. Part three of this series will focus on the role of the education pipeline in meeting the demand for qualified nurses.
Read the other Nursing Shortage articles for more helpful tips on going back to school.