Why New Nurses Can’t Find Jobs (No, Really)

Why New Nurses Can’t Find Jobs (No, Really)

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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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170 Comments on "Why New Nurses Can’t Find Jobs (No, Really)"


Guest
Stan
Apr 4, 2015

The Universities are churning out nurses in their thousands. There are no jobs for them. Why spend all that money over 3 years for nothing.

Guest
Melissa
Mar 28, 2015

Is that Southwest Memorial, Kim?

Guest
kim
Mar 20, 2015

Be willing to relocate. Our hospital in Cortez, Colorado has openings in every department. The job posting may say wants experienced nurses….apply anyway. Admin in highly considering hiring new grads, we need nurses so badly. You may not get the sign on bonus as a new grad, but its worth a try. Its a nice area, high desert, close to skiing, low cost of living.

Guest
Feb 8, 2015

Hi there I know how hard it can be looking for a job, however the job market is opening back up and there are lots of companies hiring now. Bayada is now hiring for RN jobs check out their website for more information http://jobs.bayada.com.

Guest
Melissa
Mar 28, 2015

Bayada is a TERRIBLE employer. I went there with no nursing experience as a new grad. They tried to take advantage of that and put me through their “new grad” program, which was basically another assessment course. I am a BSN and had an entire assessment course. It wouldn’t have been so bad EXCEPT, they wanted to pay me 9.50 an hour while I was in the course, (I was already making 13.50 as a CNA), and 25 an hour when I graduated. RIP OFF. I warn everyone away from Bayada.

Guest
Melissa
Mar 28, 2015

Also, their assessment course didn’t contain what I was actually interested in, which was learning phlebotomy and IVs since I felt our school did a terrible job with that. Our assessment course though, we had to do a full head to toe, and when I asked what their assessment course entailed, it was lung and heart assessments…. which I already had a full course in. They were just trying to take advantage.

Guest
Nov 18, 2014

I disagree, I don’t think there is a shortage of nurses. There is indeed a shortage of nurses willing to work in these conditions. That pretty much sums it up as a whole.

Real nice debate here though.

Guest
tim
Feb 14, 2015

my wife JUST wants to get in the door. she doesn’t care WHAT she does..Problem is, hiring managers look at that as begging.. well she’s pretty damn close to begging.. goodness..

Guest
Delores
Mar 2, 2015

Gee whiz, you just validated my feelings regarding what I thought runs through the hiring mgr’s heads if I consistently call about job placement. So sorry a nurse with the experience she has is having a hard time. That isn’t hopeful for someone like me with no experience.

Guest
SeanSays
Oct 14, 2014

There is no nursing shortage only in the state of California. Anywhere in the U.S you can find a hospital job. If you are really serious about finding a RN job move to Texas. I almost lost hope after over a year of not finding a job in the Bay Area. I applied to a residency program at a hospital in San Antonio and they hired me and sent me through the residency program. I graduated in 2009 and they put me through the residency program. But it is Texas. No union so they can give you up to 8 patients on a general floor. The pay is low and the weather is horrible. You can find a job in South Texas. Not being racist, South Texas is majority Mexican. And the Mexicans here in Texas don’t go to school. When they reach their twenties the majority work menial jobs and have kids and get on government assistance. It’s a way of life for them. They don’t have enough educated people here to fill these jobs. If South Texas was majority white with a lot of Filipinos, there would be no nursing shortage in South Texas. I sacrificed moving to Texas to get experience as a RN and will move back to California next year. Sometimes you gotta do something you hate to create something you love ( living in CA working as a RN).

Guest
tim
Feb 14, 2015

you’re smoking dude.. My wife has applied in Colorado, Oregon Washington, texas and NO bites.. she has been a nurse TEN years!!! 8 as an LPN but still.. TEN YEARS!!! so wipe your ass with the, any other state, she an find a job nonsense..

Guest
val
Oct 11, 2014

I am speaking from my own experience as a CNA the reason it is so hard to find a job out there is not the fact that they are not hiring because they are it is he fact that they are not paying enough so that you can have just one job in order to survive if you are lucky you have to have two jobs even then it isn’t easy this is for the fact that you have then got t make sure that the two schedules do not conflict with each other and you also have to make sure the second job is going to pay you well enough so that you do not need another job what needs to happen is they need to make a law that CNAs get paid better then they do.

Guest

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Guest

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Guest
Liz pie
Apr 16, 2014

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.

Guest
Liz pie
Apr 16, 2014

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.

Guest
Jan 20, 2014

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.

Guest
Jan 14, 2014

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

Guest
Jan 12, 2014

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Guest
gail
Jan 9, 2014

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.

Guest
tim
Feb 14, 2015

I hope you got that job ma’am or abetter one..it is heck out there