NEW YORK NURSE: May 2009
by Nancy Webber
The economic recession is having an unexpected impact on the job market for new nursing graduates.
Just one year ago, the high demand and low supply of registered nurses had almost guaranteed immediate employment. Now, there are reports that newly graduated RNs can’t find jobs.
What happened to the nursing shortage?
The shortage has not gone away, according to Barbara Zittel, executive secretary of the New York State Board for Nursing. But hospitals have changed their hiring practices.
“Acute care facilities are reluctant to hire new graduates,” said Zittel. “Part of the reason is that it is expensive to train them and transition them into practice. In the current economy, we are finding that nurses who had been working part-time or had left direct care are returning to work.”
The unstable economy and the threat of reductions in government funding have caused hospital managers to pull back on spending. Hiring freezes, layoffs, and even hospital closings have been in the headlines during the first quarter of 2009. With the likelihood that more experienced nurses will be looking for jobs, hospitals are unwilling to make an investment in new grads.
This fact was noted by a report released in March by the Center for Health Workforce Studies, based at the School of Public Health, SUNY Albany. A survey of nurse recruiters revealed an increase in the numbers of both new RN graduates and experienced nurses applying for open positions.
Over 42% of the recruiters had seen an increase in the number of experienced RNs hired for direct care positions and about 60% reported an increase in the number of per diem and traveling RNs hired for permanent nursing positions.
Despite the contraction in nurse hiring, experts continue to predict a worsening shortage of nurses over the next decade. Nationwide, the shortage may increase to 300,000 full-time positions by 2019. New York State’s RN deficit is expected to expand to 24,000 by 2016.
“Not hiring new graduates will extend the nursing shortage rather than decrease it,” said Zittel.
“A large proportion of experienced nurses will be retiring in a few years. The young people who should replace them will find different jobs when nursing degrees are unmarketable. We have seen this before.”
In the mid-1990s, nurse layoffs were common as hospitals adjusted to the managed care environment. As the word spread that nursing jobs were being cut, enrollment in nursing schools dropped dramatically. They have only recently taken an upturn in response to the nursing shortage.
Health care is not like other industries: when the demand for cars goes down, factories make fewer cars. The demand for health care continues to grow, regardless of the economy, and may even increase faster when more people have lost their health coverage and can’t afford preventive care.