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Recession Crimps Job Availability for New Nursing Graduates

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By Glenna Murdock, RN, contributor

As recently as the summer of 2008 new nursing graduates were reveling in the perks of a hot job market, easily finding work in a favorite specialty on a preferred shift rotation. In a matter of months, due to the country’s dramatic economic downturn, the job climate has cooled considerably.

The effects of the recession on employment prospects have been jarring for recent graduates who entered nursing schools during an era when employers were vying to attract a share of the too-small pool of new nurses. The expectation of finding themselves in a job market teeming with possibilities has been replaced by a new reality—one that may require them to change gears, at least temporarily.

And temporary is the common theme shared by those on the frontlines.

Kelly Bryant, MS, BSN, RN, is the coordinator of BSN clinical nursing and a nursing instructor at Ursuline College near Cleveland, Ohio. She works directly with Ursuline’s graduating seniors in their last semester as they begin their job searches and she confirms that employment opportunities are considerably more limited for 2009 graduates.

Bryant, however, does not view the current job situation as one of gloom and doom.

“I have been through a number of job shortages through the years,” Bryant said, “and I feel certain that this one is temporary and short-term. I tell our seniors, ‘There are jobs and you will find work. It might not be in the area you most desire, but the experience you gain will be invaluable and transferable to any future practice setting.’”

“I emphasize that if they are flexible and receptive to new opportunities and challenges, they will weather the storm,” she continued.

A number of factors brought about by the recession have affected job availability. Older nurses who have seen their retirement accounts shrink or whose spouses may have lost their jobs are delaying retirement. Full-time nurses who need additional income are now more willing to work extra shifts, and part-time workers are asking to go full-time. Even nurses who have been inactive are taking refresher courses and returning to active practice.

Hospital census numbers are also down due to widespread job layoffs and the resultant loss of health insurance for vast numbers of families who no longer have the luxury of considering elective procedures. A convergence of these elements has created “a perfect storm,” the aftermath of which includes fewer job openings.

While admitting that there aren’t as many hospital positions available for new graduates, Vida Lock, Ph.D., RN, BC, associate professor and director at the Cleveland State University School of Nursing, also describes the circumstances as “a temporary blip.”

“Although many employers are being cautious in these difficult economic times,” Lock said, “we should not be fooled into thinking that the nursing shortage is over. In fact, the need for nurses will increase in coming years, driven by our large and aging baby boomer population.”

Lock also encourages job seekers to increase the scope of their searches.

“We need to remember that nurses work not only in hospitals, but in a wide variety of roles in the community,” she said. “While hospitalized patients need more intense care, nurses also provide a significant impact on the lives of so many people each day, whether that be in an assisted living center, a school, a community health agency, a primary care clinic or other similar setting.”

As the senior director of staffing and recruitment at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Lois Bock, RN, BS, can speak from the perspective of the employer.

“This is the first year in my nine years as a recruiter that I have seen a market where new grads couldn’t get their dream job,” Bock remarked. “A year ago I couldn’t have envisioned this market, but I am absolutely convinced that this is temporary.”

Bock has also witnessed how rapidly circumstances can change.

“Three weeks ago, Cleveland Clinic had no job openings for new grads,” she explained, “but expansion has changed that and, now, there are 162 and a half positions open just on the main campus. We need experienced nurses for many of those positions and it is interesting that while new grads are clamoring for jobs, it is more challenging to recruit experienced nurses now. Given the current market, they feel more secure in their current jobs and fear making a switch.”

A facet of Bock’s position with The Clinic involves career counseling, and she offers words of advice to graduates.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t let this temporary bump in the road frighten you. Nursing is still a great profession and the time will come when there will not be a shortage of positions. Meanwhile, present yourself the very best you can when you interview and keep your mind open to all kinds of job opportunities.’”

Lock added, “Nurses provide such an important service to humankind, that they will always be integral to society.”    

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