By Alison Young, USA TODAY
Even as a national nursing shortage looms, many newly graduated registered nurses can't find jobs because the recession has delayed retirement of experienced nurses, regulators and health care associations say.
Those who find work often can't get the better-paying hospital positions they'd hoped for and instead are turning to nursing homes, home health care or other settings, says Carylin Holsey, president of the National Student Nurses' Association.
An advisory for new grads published by the association warns that the market is "flooded" with experienced RNs who have come out of retirement, delayed retirement or gone from part-time to full-time employment because of the recession.
The nursing job market tightened noticeably last year. A June 2009 survey by the association of 2,112 spring RN graduates found 44% hadn't yet landed a nursing job.
In metro Cincinnati, the job market for RNs is the tightest in the 20 years that a hospital workforce survey has been conducted by the Greater Cincinnati Health Council, says the council's Mary Duffey. "Our May students are not finding positions."
When the economy improves a wave of retirements is expected. "Unless we are very proactive ... this could be catastrophic for the nation's health care system," says Beverly Malone, CEO of the National League for Nursing, a nursing educators' group.
Large nursing shortages are still forecast as aging Baby Boomers need more care and millions of additional Americans get insurance in 2014 under the nation's new health law. A Vanderbilt University analysis last year - before the health law passed - predicted that the U.S. will be short 260,000 nurses by 2025.
"It's enough to do significant interruptions to the health care system and potentially even render it inoperable," says Peter Buerhaus, the study's author and director of Vanderbilt's Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies. He says it's critical for policy leaders to find a way to keep new nursing graduates in the profession through the recession so projected shortages aren't even worse.
Two or three years ago, new grads often had multiple job offers, says Kathleen Ann Long, dean of the University of Florida College of Nursing. "I would describe this as a temporary blip in a very long-term trend that indicates a severe shortage of nurses in this country," she says.
To get jobs now, new RNs may need to be flexible about location and shifts and look beyond their preferred jobs in hospitals. Jobs are easier to find in some parts of the country than others. "Our students are getting jobs, it's just that they're not getting their first or second choice," says Janet Allan, dean of the University of Maryland nursing school.
To combat the likely shortage in coming years, nursing schools several years ago began increasing their class sizes.
In Arizona, the expansion has more than doubled the new nurses entering the state's workforce each year, from 1,254 graduates in 2002 to 2,805 in 2009, says Pamela Randolph, associate director at the Arizona State Board of Nursing. About 21% of new Arizona RNs licensed in the past year lacked nursing jobs, according to a board survey released in May. The most often cited reason: "Not enough jobs for new RN grads in the area."
Newly licensed RN Kristin Fauss has been waiting tables in Omaha while she looks for her first nursing job. "It's been kind of rough," she says.