The Changing Careerscape for Nurses: Where are the Jobs?


The Changing Careerscape for Nurses: Where are the Jobs?

With the economy in jeopardy and jobs becoming scarce, nursing has consistently come out on top as a recession-proof job. The prevailing wisdom is that there’s always a need, the U.S. has a chronic nursing shortage, nursing can’t be outsourced…and there are 80 million baby boomers retiring, which means nurses retiring and an aging population that needs more care. And then there’s the Affordable Health Care Act to factor in. We should be swimming in nursing opportunities, right? Yet many new grads are finding jobs more difficult to find than anticipated, so what’s going on here?

Recession takes a toll

In 2001, there was an epic crisis. Nearly every state desperately needed thousands of nurses, and there were no applicants to fill the gap. The medical profession went into high gear and did a great job of getting the word out about the current labor shortage and the coming need. The result is a flood of new nurses entering the workforce. But the recession took a toll on every aspect of the economy, including the medical field. Several factors are influencing the job market:

  • Nurses who would ordinarily have retired already are choosing to work longer. Retirement security isn’t as reliable as it was a decade ago. People are afraid their retirement money won’t be enough, and for many, it’s a well-founded fear.
  • Hospitals and medical facilities are hard-pressed financially, and layoffs have become increasingly common.
  • To save money, some medical facilities are delegating non-clinical responsibilities to lower-paid assistants.
  • Experienced nurses are returning to the workforce to make up family budget shortfalls when their spouses lose their jobs.

To put it in perspective, in Washington, 2,850 nurses graduated with associate’s or bachelor degrees in 2010. Unfortunately, there were only 1,800 job openings waiting.

The light at the end of the tunnel

The good news is that the job shortage is temporary. Baby boomers will retire, including nurses. The parts of the ACA that will result in more medical jobs will take effect by 2014. The economy will recover. And a doctor shortage will result in more responsibility being shifted to RNs and PAs. By 2017, nurses will be in great demand once again. In the meantime, travel nursing remains a highly viable option. The flexibility to follow the need is invaluable. Recession or not, there will always be temporary nursing gaps waiting to be filled at a premium salary. For newly graduated nurses, the answer may lie in more schooling. Specialization is always a wise career move, even if it means delaying your career during a difficult economic time.

Working nurses: What advice would you give to nursing students? How can they gain an edge in a suddenly competitive field?