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New Nurses Find Jobs Scarce in Poor Economy

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   November 30, 2010

Mass hospital layoffs hit the news in October, and the news probably came as no surprise to recent RNs who are scouring the want ads.

Recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the number of job cuts in 2010 is keeping pace to tie or even beat the record 152 mass layoffs in 2009. Mass layoffs are designated as those that cut 50 or more employees.

These statistics come as new graduate nurses are reporting ever-tougher times finding work, contrary to every expectation they held when they entered school. For years, healthcare touted nursing as a recession-proof job. The nursing shortage meant many new grads could pick and choose. Hospitals spent time and money wooing students while still in school, hoping to ensure those nurse would eventually choose their organization.

The recession, however, has granted us a temporary reprieve of the nursing shortage. Across the country, hospitals are cutting back, nurses are adding more shifts or delaying retiring, and the vacancies that once gave HR recruiters grey hairs are a thing of the past (at least for now).

This translates to new grads finding much more competition for open positions, if they even have any open positions in their area at all. The situation affects the entire country, but is particularly acute in California and the north east.

The situation is so concerning to nursing authorities in California that several organizations combined to conduct a study to examine the situation of new grads in its state. Along with the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care CINCH, the survey included the California Board of Registered Nursing, California Student Nurses Association, Association of California Nurse Leaders, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, and the UCLA School of Nursing. 

Last week, CINHC released its findings. Forty-three percent of nurses who graduated in the state between May 2009 and March 2010 reported being unable to find work as RNs. Among the more than 1,000 survey respondents, the most common reasons given for not finding an RN job were:

  • No experience (93%)
  • No positions available (67%)
  • BSN preferred or required (35%)
  • Out of school too long (13%)

"The unexpected difficulty that new RNs are having in finding employment is now California's most pressing workforce issue," said Deloras Jones, RN, MS, executive director of the CINHC, which coordinated the survey, in a press release. "After several years of investing in building the workforce and increasing nursing program educational capacity, the new graduate hiring dilemma threatens to undermine the progress that has been made."

Of those new nurses who were able to find a job, 45% of respondents said it took less than three months to get a job and 26% said it took three to six months to find their first nursing job.  

For those who couldn't find work as an RN, 28% had been looking for an RN position for three to six months; 28% for six to nine months; 15% for nine to 12 months, and 20% had been looking longer than 12 months.

The danger, of course, is that if too much time elapses, these nurses will find jobs in other areas, perhaps abandoning nursing entirely, and be unavailable when acute care's needs rise once more.

Interestingly, when asked about their interest in participating in unpaid internships, 85% reported interest. The main reason given was the opportunity to increase skills and competence, but the new grads also mentioned exposure to employers and the chance to improve their resumes as benefits. This could be a way for cash-strapped organizations to retain connections and build relationships until situations improve.

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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