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Has the Nursing Shortage Disappeared?

 |  By  
   August 10, 2010

It's that time of year again. Graduating nursing students are preparing to take the NCLEX and are looking for their first jobs. This year, many are finding those first jobs in short supply.

Reports are rampant of new graduates being unable to find open positions in their specialty of choice, and even more shockingly, many are finding it tough to find any openings at all.

These new RNs entered school with the promise that nursing is a recession-proof career. They were told the nursing shortage would guarantee them employment whenever and wherever they wanted.

So what happened? Has the nursing shortage—that we've heard about incessantly for years—suddenly gone away?

The short term answer is clearly yes, although in the long term, unfortunately, the shortage will still be there.

The recession has brought a temporary reprieve to the shortage. Nurses who were close to retirement have seen their 401(k) portfolios plummet and their potential retirement income decline. They are postponing retirement a few more years until the economy—and their portfolios—pick up.

Many nurses have seen their spouses and partners lose their jobs and have increased their hours to make ends meet for their families. Some who left the profession to care for children or for other reasons have rejoined the workforce for similar reasons.

In addition, many hospitals are not hiring. The recession brought hiring freezes to healthcare facilities across the country, and many are still in effect. Help wanted ads for healthcare professionals dropped by 18,400 listings in July, even as the overall economy saw a modest increase of 139,200 in online job listings.

Organizations that are hiring may simply have positions for fewer new grads than in the past. This leads to fears that new grads will accept positions simply to have a job, and then jump ship when something better comes along. The chief nursing officer of a Kansas City hospital told me her organization is trying to protect against that by taking extra care when screening new graduates. Instead of just one interview, they now bring candidates back for a second interview to ensure they are really committed to the organization before they are hired.

They also offer a nursing residency program that helps bridge the gap between school and practice and provides the mentoring and support needed to thrive at the organization.

In rural areas, hospitals worry that recent graduates who can't find a job will move away. Some organizations take the view that it's better to get new grads into the system in some capacity, even if not a perfect fit, and then accept internal turnover as positions come along. This allows the organization to nurture the new nurses and build their engagement by focusing on their professional development and proving they are committed to the growth of the nurse within the organization.

Once the economy improves, many of these issues will go away and new grads will once again have their pick of opportunities. And in the not-too-distant-future, the aging population will prove that the nursing shortage never really went away.

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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