Nursing Still A Good Career Option: Just A Little Slow Right Now

March 22nd, 2012

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By , BSN, RN

Back at the end of 2011, I predicted a rosy future for nursing in 2012 and beyond. Well, a couple months in I’m feeling pretty good about beyond but not so sure about 2012.

Over on the RNCentral Twitter page I have noticed more new nurses and student nurses worrying about their prospects for employment this year. Just the other day we responded to a young woman who will be hitting the healthcare job hunt in May with some tips to up her hireability (I know that’s not word but you know what I mean) and they were good tips but again, it really got me thinking.

So, this morning when I read an article published on the BloombergBusinessweek website about the nursing shortage being over for the time being, I wasn’t totally surprised.

The nursing shortage has been going on for over a decade now. It was 2002 when the American Hospital Association first started reporting a need for more nursing staff. In August of that same year the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations released a white paper echoing the same sentiment. The white paper went as far as to say, “failure to address this problem aggressively is likely to result in increased deaths, complications, lengths-of-stay and other undesirable outcomes.”

The country responded. Advertising campaigns to consider nursing as a career, the Nurse Reinvestment Act, and the addition of nurse internships and residencies at hospitals across the country sprung to life. It was a great time to be a new nurse graduate. The job offers came rolling in. I guess it had to end someday.

Even Nursing Feels a Downturn

In January this year the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the healthcare sector, across the board, added 312,500 jobs in 2011—but those weren’t all nursing jobs. In today’s Bloomberg article, “The number of full-time nurses grew by about 386,000 from 2005 to 2010 and about a third of the growth occurred as unemployment rose to a high of 10 percent during that period, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.” So up to 2010 we were looking good.

What isn’t completely represented in those numbers were the number of nurses who might have left the profession to stay home with children or who might have left for other careers or the retirees who either stayed in the workforce or returned the day after their retirement party because they couldn’t afford to not work. The added responsibility of being the only breadwinner in the house when a spouse was laid off, or needing added income because the kids came home after college, unable to find a job.

The Bloomberg reporter interviewed economist Douglas Staiger, a professor at Dartmouth College, and the author of the study that says the shortage is over until about 2020. “Probably for the first time in memory there were actually reports of nurses having difficulty finding jobs and reports from hospitals of almost a glut of nurses.” Just the feeling I was getting from Twitter chat and real conversations with new nurses in my area.

We’ve heard these cautions before, and I’m not denying the market has slowed. However, in July 2010, the Tri-Council for Nursing released a joint statement cautioning against declaring an end to the nursing shortage prematurely. While nursing needs at hospitals and other facilities may be met right now, when the economy improves, and it will, the nursing shortage will widen. Sound familiar?

Researcher Staiger even said, “Going ahead into 2020 and beyond, there are concerns that the kind of shortages we’ve had will be larger than what we’ve seen.”

There are many contributing factors that continue to make nursing a sound career move. Two reasons are intimately tied to each other. As the baby boom generation ages and efforts to increase access to healthcare become stronger, demand for nurses will grow. In conjunction, according to preliminary data from the 2008 National Sample Survey released in March 2010 by the Federal Division of Nursing, the average age of the RN population in March 2008 was 47 years of age…many are baby boomers themselves, looking to retire in the next 10 years.

Right now the median age of nurses in this county is 46-years-old, with the largest number, nearly 45 percent, being over 50 according to a national workforce survey.

The News Isn't All Bad

Just two days before the Bloomberg headline, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) also released an article about the state of nursing employment in the next decade. “The BLS reports a 26 percent increase in registered nursing positions nationwide between 2010 and 2020—an increase of more than 700,000 jobs—but an American Nurses Association (ANA) analysis of the statistics found that, “BLS data refer to companies reporting registered nurses employed to perform registered nurse duties. The statistics do not include registered nurses who are self-employed or business owners.” Looking good for nurses—maybe just not right this minute.

The RWJF article goes on to suggest that finding a job as a new nurse is not impossible, it’s just a bit more work. New grads will have to open themselves up to less traditional first time jobs. They may need to widen their search field or even move to a part of the country that has more jobs. Facing facts, somewhere like Houston, Texas (home of the world’s largest medical center) and other cities with huge healthcare employment bases are going to offer more availability than small town America.

I think this is just a temporary slowdown. All fields have highs and lows but let’s face it: As a country we are not getting younger or healthier. Don’t let the headlines scare you. The economist expert interviewed for the Bloomberg article agrees. “The nursing shortage is likely to re-emerge and nursing is going to continue to be a good occupation choice for young people,” Staiger told them.

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