The nursing job market overview

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Keeping up with job market news in the nursing field can quickly make you wish you had a career advisor to untangle the mixed messages—a tough job market, yet understaffing at hospitals and clinics; a looming shortage, yet potential students being turned away from schools.

Here, we throw the word “crisis” out the window and provide some quick, simple facts and projections about the job market today and tomorrow, along with answers to the questions you’ve been asking.

What will the job market look like in 10 years?
The need for both RNs and LPNs is expected to grow like never before—by 21 to 22 percent between 2008 and 2018. What is particularly interesting is that these jobs will be in various fields, not just in long-term care and geriatrics. As medical procedures advance, nurses are needed to care for patients who are recovering from previously fatal diseases and conditions.

How does the current shortage compare to ones in the past?

The last time the United States experienced a significant nursing shortage was in 1965. It’s predicted that in 2025, there will be a shortage that rivals that of the one in 1965. In fact, it’s estimated that we will be short twice the amount.

How is the nursing field faring in the recession compared to other job markets?
Healthcare facilities across the U.S., including hospitals, long-term care and clinics, added 21,000 jobs in November 2009. In that same month, 85,000 people in other fields lost their jobs.

Why can’t some new nurses find jobs?
Currently there is a job vacancy rate of more than 8 percent, and yet some nurses can’t find jobs. One reason may be that these nurses are new and inexperienced. Will the powers-that-be invest money into orienting them and accepting them into the fold? Seems the smart ones will, considering these nurses are going to be an essential part of the team 15 years from now!

Why are people being turned away from nursing school when there’s a significant shortage looming?
Almost 50,000 potential nurses were refused entry into BSN and graduate nursing programs in the 2008-09 academic year due to the lack of resources—instructors, space and clinical sites. If you’re a seasoned nurse, what this means is that if you’ve been harboring a secret desire to go into teaching, there’s no time like the present. Instructors are needed in the classrooms and in the clinical areas.

Can I still be a bedside nurse while teaching?
Some nurses work part-time as floor nurses and part-time as clinical instructors. These nurses get paid to help educate the next generation of nurses while maintaining the job they’ve always loved.

Why are some hospitals struggling with staffing problems?
The nurse staffing problem isn’t just the lack of new nurses, but the mobility of the new graduates. Apparently, 13 percent of new RNs change jobs after just one year and 37 percent would like to. Considering how much it costs to recruit nurses and to teach them the ropes, this could result in significant dings in the annual staffing budgets. According to a 2005 report, it costs almost $3,000 to hire a new nurse.

Why is it important to find the right job and stick with it when there are so many specialties to explore?
Above all else, it’s best for the patients. For example, good staffing increases a surgical patient’s chance of survival by 7 percent. There’s no better reason out there for nurses and administrators to work toward maintaining a good staff.

What can nurses do to help fill the ranks?
Don’t feel helpless—speak up. If you feel you would make a good teacher, don’t keep wondering if you should do it—do it! There are various ways to add to your education, from going to a traditional classroom to taking online courses. If you work in a hospital that doesn’t offer clinical space for nursing students, propose it. The more students we have out there, the better it will be for all of us.

Read these articles for more about the nursing job market outlook and nurse salaries:


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Marijke Durning

Marijke is a professional writer who began her working career as a registered nurse over 25 years ago. After working in clinical areas ranging from rehab to intensive care, as a floor nurse to a supervisor, she found she could combine her extensive health knowledge with her love of writing. Although she has been published in a wide variety of publications for professionals and the general public, her passion is writing for the every day person to promote health literacy.

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15 Responses to The nursing job market overview

  1. Julieanne

    I find it fantastic that somebody has written an article outlining this problem. While I cannot comment about the nursing issues in the USA, in Australia we are facing the same very issues. Our government keeps making comment to the fact that there is a nursing shortage in our country, and when things go wrong in health care the government and media are very quick to blame the nursing and doctor shortage. But I find it extremely hard to see where the shortage is. Just a few months ago, it was revealed that only 222 out of 800 new mid-year nursing graduates found a job. And just last week I was speaking to a 2nd year student who was saying that only 60 out of 200 2nd year students were able to gain a clinical placement. Nobody seems to be looking at the long-term picture here – yes there will be a major shortage in the years to come, but we need to start training our new nurses now, so we can cope with the shortage that is to come.

  2. Terri

    I have been teaching in ADN programs for 18 years. YES…we definitely need new nurses to join Nursing Education. However, be aware of the complexities that have left us with a shortage of qualified instructors. Most state boards require an RN to have a minimum of a Masters degree in Nursing to teach — many Universities require a Doctorate. These can be very expentive and time-consuming. Even with such an educational requirement, most Nurse Educators would make much more money in the clinical practice environment.

    With that being said, it should come as no suprise that we teach because of our strong interest in the future of nursing. It is so exciting to watch students develop — when I see the “lightbulbs” go on and students gaining competency and confidence it helps “buffer” the money issues. If you love nursing and have the attitude for teaching the next generation of nurses…..come join us!

  3. Peggy

    I am currently working on the nursing pre-reqs and will apply to an accelerated BSRN program this semester. Many years ago I was an LPN and worked in post-op surgical and L&D. Then 10 years ago I got a BS in Organizational Leadership (euphemism for Training and Development) and did corporate training for a while because I love teaching adults. Looking back I wish I had gotten the RN then, but I didn’t. If all goes according to plan, I’d like to get the RN, then move into a Masters in Nursing Education. That way I can use my first degree (teaching adults) do my small part in moving a great field forward.

  4. Scott

    I have found that the nursing shortage in the US is not only because there aren’t enough programs available for people to get into, but also an unwillingness on the part of graduates to relocate. In Ohio, where I live, there has been an almost overwhelming number of private nursing schools opening. Many of them are not requiring students to take pre-requisite courses. This has led to an over abundance of graduates here. However, many of the nurses I graduated with in June 2010, don’t want to move. I would say a full 1/3 of my graduating class is unemployed, and half of the remaining are only working part-time.

  5. Sherri

    I have been looking everywhere for a job. I sat for my boards in March and have been looking ever since. Where are the jobs? It’s getting so people look at you suspiciously when you tell them you can’t find a job. I am so sick of hearing “I’m sorry, we’re looking for someone with experience.” Its the age old question: how am I supposed to get experience if no one will give me a chance! I am so frustrated! As far as relocating goes, that would be fine if I didn’t have a family. How can I pull my high school age son out of his school right before he graduates?

  6. Linda

    I have been a nurse since 1973, working full time in hospital settings, public health, home care, and case management. We have been downsized in every setting since about 1988. The “nursing shortage” is a crock. Never mind if there are impending babyboomer medical needs. There is no money to hire nurses. Plenty of people-tens of thousands- die in the U.S. now because they cannot afford the medical care they need. There is no reimbursement mechanism to pay for medical or nursing care. Our medical system makes money, so it could be called successful, but it does not provide care very well.

  7. Lois Darr

    I agree with Linda, I have a similar work history. I relocated last January and have been looking for a job ever since. The hospitals do not want older nurses as well as new graduates. Most advertised jobs seem to go to internal applicants, who knows what happens to the jobs they leave. I have heard many positions go unfilled. No one mentions the influence of RAC on all this, but I believe it has a part in the nursing job market.

  8. Christina

    I am having the same issue – I am a RN in my mid 30’s with 4 years of experience in acute care setting and I cannot find a job either. I apply and apply and my resumes go into the vortex. I don’t understand it. 4 years ago, I had my pick as a new grad – with 5 floors all wanting me. Now that I have experience, all I hear are crickets. All these openings are posted, are they just posting them for the sake of posting them?

  9. Teresa

    I agree with one of the above posters that the perceived nursing shortage is a crock. I’ve had my degree for almost 4 years now, and it has been a struggle to maintain full time employment. My best friend graduated from the RN program a year behind me – at the top of her class, and it took her a year to find a job. Meanwhile she filled in with menial things like part-time store clerk. .I see hospitals and clinics continuing to build and build and build, outfitting their clinics with top of the line decorating – one clinic in our area even has an art gallery! Is this necessary for good patient care? Absolutely not. But, this same facility skimps on nursing coverage on the floor. Hospital nurses are being worked to death in many hospitals because these facilities know that RNs right now, are a dime a dozen.

  10. John

    wow I just graduated. This does not sound very good. I have heard it is about impossible to find a job here in Denver if you are a new grad. I hope I did not waste my time and money. Hospitals need to look at the big picture.

  11. sally

    I am so turned off. I would not advice any one to go to nursing school.

  12. John

    I will second that. Big waste of time. I graduated in Dec. Passed my boards in March. I have put out 70+ applications with no interview. Actually I have been offered 2 sales jobs interviews b/c of monster. What a joke. Think twice before going to nursing school. Don’t believe the “baby boomer” “nursing shortage” B.S.. Do your research. Hospitals here in Denver are paying relocation bonuses and paying for flights to “experienced nurses. But they will not hire a new grad b/c they can’t afford it. I will probably wind up working at Lowes . Right now my nursing liscence seems like a worthless piece of paper.

  13. Sarah

    There are too many nurses as it is. I left a job where I was working 24 hour shifts because we were so under staffed. I felt worn out and frustrated at giving such poor care as the patient load was not safe. So sold my house and moved. Found out after moving that most hospitals are not hiring experienced nurses either. I have been a nurse for over 10 years! This is a way for hospitals to drive down the cost of hiring nurses and create an illusion that there is some kind of shortage.

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