Looking Out for Our New Nurse Grads

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


June 17, 2011

In This Article

Be a Nurse...If You Can

A popular Website about the nursing profession claims, "there has never been a better time to be a nurse."[1] "Be" a nurse? Perhaps, but "become" a nurse? Perhaps, that is less certain. In spite of continuing to rank among the best careers[2] and best jobs[3] in America, the nursing profession is struggling to welcome its newest members with open arms and paychecks.

Not too long ago, the threat of a growing nursing shortage prompted thousands of prospective students to choose nursing as a career, and nursing schools rapidly filled to capacity. Nursing was frequently referred to as a "recession-proof" career,[4] and the outlook for finding a job after graduation was rosy.

Experience and Employment: The Vicious Cycle

Now, the bloom, as they say, is off the rose. It seems that many of our new grads are stuck in that perennial dilemma[5]: They can't get a job without experience, and they can't get experience without a job. This situation was not anticipated by thousands of nursing students who were told, often repeatedly, that a global nursing shortage practically guaranteed employment for them.

New grads get conflicting messages about RN employment after graduation.

The messages that nurses are getting these days are not only confusing, they are downright conflicting. The Bureau of Labor and big government think tanks tell us that the role of the nurse will be more important than ever before in the changing healthcare system.[6,7] Here are the latest projections for employment outlook for nurses, from the US Bureau of Labor:

"Overall job opportunities for registered nurses (RNs) are expected to be excellent, but may vary by employment and geographic setting. Some employers report difficulty in attracting and retaining an adequate number of RNs. Employment of RNs is expected to grow much faster than the average and, because the occupation is very large, 581,500 new jobs will result, among the largest number of new jobs for any occupation. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of job openings will result from the need to replace experienced nurses who leave the occupation."

Consider, for example, the situation faced by new graduates in California.[8] A survey of hospitals by the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care found that as many as 40% of new graduates may not be able to find jobs in California hospitals, because only 65% of the state's potential employers were hiring new graduates and generally planned to hire fewer new graduates than in previous years. Overwhelming numbers of new graduates submitted applications for the few available positions for new graduates. It wasn't that the hospitals weren't hiring at all, but that they wanted nurses with experience.[8]

So where does this leave our thousands of new graduates who need jobs? Has the nursing shortage just vanished? Have people stopped getting sick? No and no. Many experts acknowledge that in spite of a projected shortage of 800,000 nurses by the year 2020,[1] the past few years have brought changes in the economic and healthcare landscape that have hampered new grads in their search for employment.


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