If there’s a nursing shortage, why can’t I find a job?

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There’s a nursing shortage.

No, really. Hospitals, especially those in rural areas, are having a hard time finding nurses to staff their floors. Patient ratios are rising, mandatory overtime is becoming much more common and every nurse you meet has a horror story about unsafe working conditions because of short staffing.

Yet you, the spandy-new nurse, can’t find a gig. How did that happen?

The answer, as it is in most things, boils down to money. In a down economy, with decreasing reimbursements, hospitals don’t want to spend the dough it takes to train a new nurse. Managements all over would rather hire experienced nurses on the cheap—and yeah, that’s possible to do—or short-staff their units than spend the several thousand dollars it takes to make sure a new RN is safe, effective and a good fit.

So how do you find a job? Getting a job out of nursing school is now—and will be more so in the future—predicated on what you do during school. It’s no longer enough to get good grades and have good references. The more experience you can muster during school, whether it’s as a tech on the weekends or in externships during semesters off, the better off you’ll be after graduation. Not only will you have experience, but you’ll have connections.

Unfortunately, things are tough enough now that your first job out of school is not at all likely to be a plum. Chances are you’ll start off working nights or swing shifts, covering weekends and holidays, and not earning as much as I did a decade ago when I started. If you can manage to work for a year, things get much easier and your prospects will improve. Hang on to that first job and use it as a springboard to another if you’re really unhappy.

And finally…you might have to relocate. I’ve heard from nurses in the mountain states who have been looking for a year or more. I’ve talked to nurses in rural Texas who have been looking for six to 18 months. If relocation is truly off the table because of family or finances, then it’s off the table—but if you’re unencumbered and relatively mobile, you can often find work if you’re willing to move.

A word about travel or agency nursing: Although it seems like a great idea to work as a traveler or agency nurse right out of school, I would advise against it. The catch in filling in as a traveler is that you’re working in places that desperately need nurses. While you might get a whole set of mad skills very quickly, the lack of comprehensive training like you’d get in a hospital setting will work against you, big time, in the long haul. Wait a year or so before signing on with Glamour Nurse Staffing, LLC.

And don’t lose hope. There are jobs out there—good ones—but they might take a little more effort to land than they did a few years ago. Keep plugging away, get some hours on the floor under your belt and see what happens.

Oh, and make sure that resume of yours is printed on nice, thick paper.

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Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at askauntieaggie@gmail.com.

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4 Responses to If there’s a nursing shortage, why can’t I find a job?

  1. JennRN RN

    I live in the Baltimore area where there are probably 15 major hospitals within 20 miles of each other and it still took me awhile to find a job. I think with the economy the older nurses arent retiring as early and therefore only a limited amount of jobs are opening up. Plus, we have sooooo many schools offering the nursing program including 5 community colleges plus a ton of 4 yr schools as well. So there are tons of graduates each year with only a small amount of job openings per hospital. And a lot of the hospitals are hiring in house first.

  2. Granny RN RN

    There is a definite ‘age discrimination factor’ in today’s workplace. If one is over a certain age and/or has many years of experience, then he/she COSTS TOO MUCH to hire or to keep! So unless a nurse has been at the same place for some years, and is not ‘RIFFed’ (Reduction in Force), now is NOT a good time to change jobs! Unless, of course, you have become an Advanced Practice Nurse and are moving Up!

  3. Mr Nurse

    Unfortunately, management will use the economy as a crutch at any time in order to justify cuts and skimping on quality of care…what they really need to justify are the rising exhorbiant salaries and obscene multi million dollar bonuses that CEOs and executives keep taking away from proper care.

  4. Rhonda

    I have been an RN for 19 yrs (graduated with ADN in 1993), and am also having trouble finding a good job here in the Chattanooga/Northwest GA area. I’ve worked in critical care for nearly my whole career but here in this area there are only 3 major hospitals and 5 nursing schools. The impression I’m getting along with other nurses like me, is that the hospitals post a lot of openings on their web sites but they are only hiring new grads because they are cheaper than seasoned nurses. I agree with the other nurses that have posted that the so-called nursing shortage is BS because here we are all a dime a dozen and the job goes to the one that bids the lowest in salary. IT IS THE BOTTOM LINE and not the quality of patient care that matters anymore. I am seeing everyday where it’s all about money and less and less about patient care because Medicare continues to decrease their reimbursements. Im glad to finally read some things on the internet about the real issues instead of propaganda about a nursing shortage.