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This month’s wretched jobs report tells a now-familiar tale: Employment has risen nicely in health care (a net gain of more than 340,000 jobs between May 2011 and May 2012). But almost every other sector has been flat or worse.

You might think that would mean that new-graduate nurses are having an easy time finding work. That’s still true in rural areas — but elsewhere, no.

In many U.S. cities, especially on the west coast, there’s real evidence of a nursing glut. The most recent survey conducted by the National Student Nurses’ Association found that more than 30 percent of recent graduates had failed to find jobs.

How is that possible?

While demand for nurses has been rising, it actually hasn’t risen as fast as most scholars had projected. Meanwhile, the supply of nurses has spiked unexpectedly, at both ends of the age scale: Older nurses have delayed retirement, often because the recession has thrown their spouses out of work. And people in their early twenties are earning nursing degrees at a rate not seen in decades. We’re now in the sixth year in which health-care employment has far outshone every other sector, and college students have read those tea leaves.

So what will happen next?

Here are crude sketches of two possible futures:

I. THE NURSING SHORTAGE OF 2020

(This scenario draws from a talk that Vanderbilt University’s Peter Buerhaus gave two weeks ago at the U. of Maryland School of Nursing. Buerhaus still sees a shortage coming, though a less severe one than the shortage that he and two colleagues had predicted in a widely-cited 2000 paper.)

  • In June 2012, the Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans never manage to do much to weaken the law. Tens of millions of Americans gain access to insurance, and the demand for nurses rises in tandem.
  • Some time around 2014, the general labor market finally recovers. There’s less desperation in the air. Sixty-year-old nurses are more likely to retire, and twenty-year-old college students who aren’t actually that interested in nursing go back to majoring in anthropology or accounting or whatever, because they’re reasonably sure they’ll find jobs.
  • The millions of soon-to-retire Baby Boomers utilize Medicare at rates similar to previous cohorts of 70-year-olds.
  • Changes in health care delivery mean that nurses and nurse practitioners are heavily deployed to provide primary care and to coordinate patients’ services.
II. THE NURSING GLUT OF 2020
  • In June, the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA’s insurance mandate. Mitt Romney wins the 2012 election and pushes his health proposals through Congress. In this scenario, at least 45 million fewer people have health insurance than would have been the case with an intact ACA.
  • The EU zone goes to hell, and the ensuing financial crisis means that the U.S. labor market stays miserable for years. College students continue to pour into health care fields, because that’s the one sector with better-than-zero growth.
  • The millions of soon-to-retire Baby Boomers utilize Medicare at significantly lower rates than previous cohorts of 70-year-olds. (Unlike the other items on this list, this one is good news.)
  • Changes in health care delivery don’t lead to a relative increase in the deployment of nurses and nurse practitioners. Accountable Care Organizations use social workers and other non-nurses to coordinate patients’ care across providers.

What will actually happen? Probably something in between, of course. (Or maybe the Yellowstone volcano will erupt and this will all be moot.)

We had better hope that it is something close to halfway in between. Both shortages and gluts are bad for patients and bad for the nursing profession. Nursing shortages, because patients are even more likely than usual to face understaffed units and overstretched nurses. Nursing gluts, because nurses are so afraid of unemployment that they don’t speak up about problems on their units.

David Glenn is a student at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and author of the blog, Notes on Nursing, where this post originally appeared.

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147 Responses for “Why New Nurses Can’t Find Jobs (No, Really)”

  1. RN as a 2nd act says:

    I am 33 years old and I have been working consistently since August 2010 after a layoff in February 2010. I have been in the accounting/finance field since 2002. Just to give you an idea of what would I would be placing on the table for nursing school.

  2. HopeThisHelpsSomeone says:

    In Tyler, TX there’re several medical facilities. There’re two hospitals that are really close to each other, Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, and East Texas Medical Center. There is also another hospital, Texas Spine and Joint (being built now). Also, UT has a hospital, it’s a little outside of Tyler though. I hope that someone can find a job @ one of these. I read comments where people were saying that they were having a hard time finding a job because of experience. A lot of nurses in the area start out at one hospital to gain that experience and then go to a different one. UT Health center (may have a different name now) it may be a good place to start.

  3. Max says:

    I think there is enough of a surplus of RNs now that there won’t be any shortage anytime in the next 20 years. I would only recommend going into nursing if that is really what you want to do. Everyone and their grandmother has a nursing degree now. I have about 10 years of other medical experience but can’t get a job as an RN after 8 months of aggressive searching. Southern California is a ruthless market right now, unless you know someone.

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  5. RN as a 2nd act says:

    Dallas, TX and Houston, TX

  6. RN as a 2nd act says:

    Dallas and Houston, TX hospitals are hiring fresh grads no exp.

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  9. J Thompson says:

    There is NO NURSING SHORTAGE!!! There has not been one for years. My hospital, In Southern California, hasn’t hired a nurse from outside for over 2 years.
    This has become a cruel rip off for many. In California, hospitals are sending recruiting teams to the Pacific Rim, finding nurses that will work on the cheap. Infections shoot up, as do complaints, but that is just one of the new Costs of doing business.
    I recently read a study by the CNA(our union) It said, in effect, one could close down EVERY SINGLE nurse school in the state…and we still would have a 10-year-plus surplus of nurses..

  10. Great and nice post thank you.

  11. BMcAdams says:

    If you live in the Los Angeles area, the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles has nursing jobs available for new grads. Visit http://jobs.chla.org to learn more.

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  14. TWL says:

    As a licensed male CNA here in Upstate, NY, once my certification runs out I am not bothering in renewing or making any attempts in looking for work in the field as I have tried various places and not a phone call. First got licensed in 2010, took me 6 months to get one lousy position. Whatever job I could get, the staff were not that very patient at the Greenhouses, the so called Shabaz greenhouse retirement homes. When I had to take a day off and I did call in advance, the day I came back like I said, the DON let me go and terminated me. Since then I tried to other places, but no phone calls. I was lucky to get my old job back at Walmart and found I made more money working retail than I did at my nursing job. Plus they were restricting our hours, while at the same time, alot of the female nurses made tons of overtime, and the administrators got big bonuses. After being let go and humiliated, I wanted no more to do with the field. I learned alot, but I am not going thru another humiating experience like that anymore and also wasting anymore of my years on a field that was sugar coated to me and I knew all along that I was not cut out for. 2 years of my life wasted and cannot get back. Never again will go thru that. To those nurses that work hard, god bless them. Just was not for me.

    • Jaded says:

      You were smart to get out. The humiliation and horror I have experienced leaves me speechless. I can’t think of a worse “profession”.

  15. John Decker says:

    This is a great article. I have been looking for different schools to get a nursing degree. I do not know if I want to travel far but I heard nursing schools in PA. Living in a city like Philadelphia would be awesome!

  16. Dipti says:

    Really some interesting facts about the career of nursing. I like to keep bookmark this post for my future need. Thank you..

  17. This is an interesting article. I think the demand for Nurses will continue to rise especially at this time and age where lifestyle disease, and other problems continue to rise due to poor lifestyle and eating habits.

    Also finding a job in this field with ease or difficulty will largely depend on your location, some areas have higher demand than others hence doing a little homework will help. Thank you

    • Fran says:

      Hospitals just don’t want to train new nurses. It costs them money. Besides, Americans are too uppity. And when they do hire someone with no experience, the regular, overworked nurses are brutal to them. Someone has to step in and FORCE these hospitals to hire new grads. If government can cough up money for nursing schools, they should cough up money for hospitals to train new grads.

  18. Nurse says:

    I think nurses can find jobs but just have to keep looking & they will soon get an opportunity or get a one field to get your feet wet until the area you looking for opens.

  19. Nancy says:

    Nearly every job I applied for in the 80′s, 90′s and early 00 I got. Back in nursing in 2011–hard market, difficult getting a nursing job, even with a BSN and great references! Different job market…for nursing, too.

  20. Jack says:

    There are so many RN program, plus online RN degree, plus imported foreign RN , plus nurse keep working as RN , where is RN shortage ?
    Pretty soon , RN is same as fast food waiter or waitress.

  21. Fran says:

    Two reasons: union busting and the importation of foreign nurses. U.S. Congress does nothing to enforce labor or immigration laws.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    I graduated in May 2012 and passed my NCLEX in Oct 2013. I have searched high and low for a job to no avail. I have had horrific experiences looking and interviewing. My last interview consisted of HR having no clue why I was there, then the tracked down a person to interview me…after 20 mins sitting in her office she finally arrived….and arrive she did…with a fleece vest covered in animal hair! The interview was very casual no questions about my good or bad qualities basically she told me in so many words that: the pay stinks, they are alway short staffed, the turnover is high, and they will be laying off in January…..Where do I sign up for this job???? Needless to say that was a month ago and no call no letter……I interviewed there for another job in June and no call no letter so a real class act. I have been on countless tours of hospitals and offices and never been offered any job. Now mind you a few of these tours were 2 hrs long.I have so many pens, bags, and notepads I could supply a school! So anyway the hunt continues and nothing seems to materialize. I’m unemployed,broke,depressed, and in debt up to my ears. I left my 1st career to better myseld and this has been nothing but a nightmare. I’m at the point now where I dont even want to be a nurse. I don’t think I’ve ever been this low in my life. Help!!!!

    • KP says:

      Elizabeth, I can feel your frustration! I am like you a new Nurse seeking employment in this job market. I relocated back to my home state and have been searching for a few months now. If you are able to volunteer at a local hospital even if it’s for 4 hours a week I would do that. Yes, you may meet people on hospital tours but they will not remember who you are. I have sent my paperwork in to start volunteering myself. Hope this helps. Hang in there. Everything will work out the way it’s meant to.

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  24. gail says:

    I have worked in Home Health for years and now I cannot find a job in any area of nursing. I have never been turned down as a nurse, but the year 2014 is a new time. I have a BSN and an MS in counseling, and am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I agree with the concept of fast food nurses. I have seen the low class, non professional individuals now being hired in the hospitals. I myself, would not be admitted to a hospital without taking a nurse friend with me. It is sad. I do have an interview tomorrow with a Hospice agency.

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  26. namerlkrlk says:

    There is no shortage of nurses. There is a shortage of nurses willing to work in these conditions.
    That’s it.

  27. The nursing shortage talk of the last decade hit a snag when the recession occurred. As you pointed out, there have been a great deal of nurses who have come out of retirement or have delayed it all together. That has changed the supply of available nurses as attrition has slowed. There are also many more programs that offer nursing degrees. We are seeing this phenomenon with other medical related jobs like CNAs, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians as well.

    The health care field is also becoming more and more efficient. This will put some downward pressure on pay and open positions for medical related careers.

  28. Liz pie says:

    I’m a new grad RN and was rejected by the Scripps New grad program. They said 1400 people applied for a few spots. This is how it is with all of the hospitals. It is awful.

  29. Liz pie says:

    Many states do not have mandated patient ratios. They can unload 30 patients on you if they want. This is not safe or healthy for the nurse or patient. People need to write their elected officials and demand that laws regarding adequate nurse to pt ratios to increase the number of jobs, make it safer for patients, and to avoid nurse burnout. I live in a state where everyone from other states come to work here because we have mandated ratios, making the nursing glut way worse.

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