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The Recession’s Effect on Jobs for New Nurses (DS)

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By Jennifer Larson, contributor

Despite the uphill march of the national unemployment rate, there are still nursing jobs out there. Even for new grads. However, it may be a little harder for novice nurses in certain pockets of the country to land their dream jobs right out of nursing school.

“What we’re seeing is that the economy might be limiting some vacant positions,” said Fay Raines, RN, Ph.D., president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. “We’ve heard from some of our faculty and students in some states that experienced nurses are certainly finding it easier to find (jobs) than new graduates.”

As the economy worsens, some nurses who were previously working part-time have taken on full-time positions, perhaps to support their families after their spouses lost their jobs. Other nurses on the verge of retirement have opted to stay in their current jobs. And some people are now choosing to forego elective surgeries, which may reduce staffing demands. Those factors may account for the slightly tighter job market in some parts of the country.

For example, take California, where the unemployment rate of 10 percent has exceeded the national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.

“We are hearing that new graduates are having more difficulty finding jobs than they have in the past,” said Deloras Jones, RN, MS, executive director of the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care.

Jones has heard that it’s taking some new nurses in California a little longer to land a job—and that they may not get their ideal job right off the bat. As Raines noted, some nurses seem to be postponing retirement, while some part-timers are converting to full-time to wait out the recession. And Jones has heard reports of lower vacancy rates at some hospitals, where the tendency is to hire experienced nurses over new nurses when the choice exists.

However, Jones emphasized that it’s mostly anecdotal evidence right now. And since there is no definitive data on the subject, her institute will be launching a survey of California hospitals and non-acute facilities to find out what kinds of positions are available in the nursing workforce.

Mary Lou Brunell, MSN, RN, executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing, has also heard anecdotal evidence of regions in her state where it’s become more difficult for novice nurses to land the exact job that they want.

“It’s tightening up for new graduates. But not everywhere,” she said, noting that facilities in some parts of Florida, like the Panhandle, are even courting new grads.
But Brunell suggested that newer nurses broaden their horizons and be more flexible when it comes time to search for a job. The culture seems to imply that all new nurses should begin their career in a hospital setting, but it may no longer be the case in every situation.

“Don’t assume that’s where you must be,” she said.

Bernadette Melnyk, RN, Ph.D., dean of Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation, agreed that the situation is similar in Arizona.

“For the first time in quite a few years, our graduates aren’t having the easiest time getting the positions that they want,” she said. “And I’m not saying the positions aren’t out there. I’m saying it’s not coming as easy as it did, and they may have to take positions that aren’t their first choice.”

But Melnyk added that even that phenomenon may only be temporary, as the nursing shortage is predicted to worsen over the next few years.
It would be understandable, however, if new nurses had been feeling a little anxious. After all, it’s impossible to ignore the worsening state of the U.S. economy and the constant up tick in the unemployment rate.

A report recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the national unemployment rate rose by 3.3 percentage points over the previous 12 months, bringing it to 8.1 percent in February. That’s the highest level since 1983.
But despite the avalanche of bad news, there is one bright spot. The report noted that the health care industry continued to add jobs; a total of 27,000 jobs were added in Feb. 2009 alone, with about 16,000 in ambulatory health care and 7,000 in hospitals. So it stands to reason there are jobs out there for nurses and other health care workers.

In fact, some experts are worried that these statistics could lead some people to believe the nursing shortage is no longer a crisis, which could be disastrous for the future.

“It is something we’re all concerned about because we do not believe the nursing shortage is over,” Jones said. “We believe that what is being experienced right now with this global economic crisis, it has created a very unusual situation in the workforce. And what we’re really worried about (is) that people will think the nursing shortage is over and we will lose the support that has been built up over the last few years that has allowed us to start making some important inroads in building the nursing workforce for the future.”

And Raines hopes that new nurses, as well as people who are considering a future career in nursing, will not be dissuaded from following that path. They will be needed, she said.

“All the data we have indicates that nursing is going to continue to grow,” she said. “We know that people are going to need nursing care. I would hope that people would not get discouraged.”