Nursing in 2011: A Mixed Bag

December 15th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

Nurses nationwide can take pride in closing out 2011 in the number one position in the annual Gallup Poll of most trusted professions. According to the pollsters, 83% of American's say nurses lead the way in honesty and ethics. This is the eighth consecutive year, and the 11th year out of 12, that RNs have taken the number one spot.

So that's good. But what did we learn from the rest of 2011? Let's take a look.

It was a year of mixed messages. Headlines included the never ending nursing shortage and new nurse grads unable to get jobs. Travel nurse openings are extensive from coast-to-coast (including Alaska and Hawaii) with literally hundreds of listings and yet hospital human resource departments are only listing limited positions available and talking about hiring freezes. What's a nurse to believe?

In 2011 we continued to hear the message that the United States is headed for the biggest nursing shortages of all time. It is projected that as baby boomers age and the need for healthcare grows the problem will intensify, hitting its peak around the year 2020. According to the American Colleges of Nursing (AACN) the problem is compounded as schools struggle to expand enrollment levels to meet the rising demands and are suffering from a lack of instructors to meet needs of students who want to enroll.

However, some of the current and projected indicators the AACN cited showed nothing but job growth in the nursing portion of the healthcare business sector:

  • In June 2011, Wanted Analytics reported employers and staffing agencies posted more than 121,000 new job ads for Registered Nurses in May, up 46% from May 2010. About 10% of that growth, or 12,700, were ads placed for positions at general and surgical hospitals, where annual turnover rates for RNs average 14% according to a recent survey.
  • According to a special issue of the Monthly Labor Review released in April 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that “the health care industry added 428,000 jobs throughout the 18-month recession from December 2007 until June 2009, and has continued to grow at a steady rate since the end of the recession.” As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, RNs were recruited to fill many of these new positions.
  • On April 1, 2011, the BLS reported that the healthcare sector of the economy continues to grow, despite significant job losses in recent months in nearly all major industries. Hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other ambulatory care settings added 37,000 new jobs in March 2011, the biggest monthly increase recorded by any employment sector. As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, RNs likely will be recruited to fill many of these new positions. The BLS confirmed that 283,000 jobs were added in the healthcare sector within the last year.

Adding to the confusion, many new nursing school graduates tell me they are having trouble finding jobs. How can that be? Then you take a look at the news and nursing literature and it seems to support that assertion.

There are quite a few reasons why those new jobs for new grads aren't popping up as expected. First and foremost is the economy. It is getting better, but slowly and hospitals are loath to stretch too far in their spending on training new nurses. Many hospitals are encouraging their staff already in place to return to school and study nursing with financial aid coming from the hospital itself. The student keeps the job they have and the hospital is guaranteed a worker with whom they are already familiar. Also, retirees aren't leaving; they are retiring on Friday and returning to work part-time the following Monday. They require no training and limited or no benefits. Finally, since the economy is only marginally better, there are experienced nurses out there looking for work and that gives hospitals more flexibility in hiring men and women with already proven track records.

New grads aren't necessarily helping themselves, either. Many have very high expectations based on all the news that says how badly they are needed. Because of their view that they are a hot commodity many request prime shifts, no weekends, no call. That is fine, but you may get no job, losing out to someone more flexible. A recent study published in Health Affairs, a journal of health policy, reveals that many new nurses are unwilling to move to where there is work. In fact, it shows that many live within 40 miles of where they attended high school. If that is a large metropolitan area, the jobs may, in fact, be fewer.

Despite these negative indicators we are also getting positive messages about how many more people are being drawn to nursing and those numbers are continuing to grow. Nursing schools programs are prospering and schools are adding nursing to their curriculums, at traditional brick and mortar schools and through online universities.

Cautious optimism greets the news that young people, ages 23 to 26, make up 62 percent of the new nurses entering the nursing workforce between 2002 and 2009. That rate of growth hasn't been experience since the 1970s. This influx of young blood is particularly noteworthy since according to the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses released in September 2010 by the federal Division of Nursing, the average age of the RN population in 2008 was 46 years of age, up from 45.2 in 2000. With the average age of RNs projected to be 44.5 years by 2012, nurses in their 50s are expected to become the largest segment of the nursing workforce, accounting for almost one quarter of all RNs.

So, 2011 was definitely a mixed bag. Overall nursing is still a great choice, for now and for the future. Nursing is a profession that can open doors to other areas of business and social involvement and will continue to be a growth industry.

2 Responses to “Nursing in 2011: A Mixed Bag”

  1. Patty Hedrick Says:

    Well said. I agree there are many opportunities for Nurses all across the spectrum from floor nursing to nurse entrepreneurs and home based businesses. As us babyboomers start passing the torch to all the young nurses coming into nursing, lets be kind to our young, and show them the real spirit and gifts of being a nurse.

  2. Hayden Says:

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