First, let’s take a quick look at why so many people claim there is a nursing shortage. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is probably the most widely cited source on the subject. The BLS includes Registered Nurses on their list of occupations with the largest number of projected job openings. Demand is expected to increase by 19% with over 1 million new or replacement jobs by 2022.
These projections are driven by the fact that 2 to 3 million new people will be added to the Medicare roles each year due to the aging baby-boomer population. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act has already added 8 million new people to the population of insured Americans.
Meanwhile, the average age of the current nursing workforce is 47 and surveys indicate that 55% of the nursing workforce is age 50 or older. A 2013 survey estimated that 190,000 RNs could retire within the following year alone. Moreover, there is a shortage of educators to keep pace with demand. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing estimates that 79,000 qualified candidates were turned away in 2013 due to faculty shortages.
Yet despite all of these numbers and sources, swaths of new-grad RNs are having an extremely difficult time finding their first nursing jobs. In fact, the National Student Nurses Association and National League for Nursing released a joint report recognizing the “very competitive job market” for new-grad RNs. So landing your first job is not as simple as adding your license and nursing degree to your resume.
As former recruiters we can attest to the fact that many new grads do indeed have difficulty landing their first jobs. We routinely spoke with them about the difficulties they were experiencing. While there was certainly a spike during the recession, our experience indicates that new-grads were experiencing difficulties landing their first jobs as far back as 2006. Based on our experience, here are 5 things that every nursing student should be acutely aware of about their future job search.
1) The nursing shortage might be national, but not necessarily local
All of the numbers that get bandied about are aggregate numbers. This means that they may not hold up in specific localities. For example, there are 1,728 Registered Nurses per 100,000 residents in Washington DC but only 605 per 100,000 in Nevada. As a result, it’s fair to expect that the job market in Washington DC is more competitive than it is in Nevada.
And it’s typically true that shortages for all medical professionals are more acute in rural areas than they are in major metropolitan areas. For example, the rural city of Merced, California is estimated to have 195 nurses per 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, San Francisco, California has 960.
As a result, it’s a great idea to consider alternative locations for your first nursing job. Research potential locations and be ready in advance for the licensing process as it’s always best to have the applicable state license prior to applying for positions. It’s much more likely that potential employers will be willing to invest the time and money to train a new-grad RN in areas where the nursing shortage is most severe.
Next, it’s important to note that the nursing shortage estimates account for ALL nursing specialties and professions. 60-65% of registered nurses work in an acute care setting. This means that 35-40% of registered nurses work outside this setting. These settings include nursing care facilities, home healthcare services, outpatient care centers, physicians offices and many others.
Meanwhile. many nursing students expect to work in an acute care setting straight out of college. Landing these jobs is highly competitive. New grads will be competing with experienced nurses from all settings for the same jobs. Moreover, the cost to train a new grad in a hospital setting is quite high. Estimates range from $14,000 on the low-end to more than $50,000 on the high-end if the dropout and turnover rates of new-grad RNs is considered.
It’s also important to remember that Acute Care Hospital nursing tends to be among the highest paying and most prestigious professional settings for nurses. It’s also considered by many to be a highly technical and assiduous setting. Again, this all means that competition is fierce for these positions.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to look into alternative options. As a nursing student, research all the various settings to find a backup plan that you’ll be happy with. It may not be your dream job, but it will provide you with valuable experience. After a year or two, you’ll be the one submitting your resume including applicable experience for hospital jobs.
3) It’s wise to start building your professional network now
Did you know that over 70 percent of all jobs are obtained through networking?! Cornell University cites the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics when making this claim. You’ll even find many reputable career websites and consultants who claim that 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking.
And no matter which university career guide you choose to rely on, they will all advise that you must build your professional network before you need it. For example, the UCLA career guide points out that networking is a long process. So if you haven’t built your network before your job search begins, then you’ll be behind the curve on the single most successful job search technique.
Starting while you’re still in nursing school gives you many additional advantages. First, you’re surrounded with potential professional connections. Your classmates, instructors, preceptors and everyone else that’s part of your scholastic ecosystem should be viewed as potential connections. And there are networking opportunities everywhere you turn, from classes to academic associations, you should be taking advantage of them all.
You’ll also have a very genuine approach to prospective experienced professional connections. You’ll simply be looking for career advice, or information to help you advance your learning as opposed to needing a job at that very moment. This makes for a much warmer and smoother transition into building strong relationships with busy professionals. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll be able to follow through with any recommendations that your contacts make and report back to them with your progress which will strengthen the bond and demonstrate your desire and work ethic.
4) Your clinicals may be the best pathway for landing an imminent job
Clinical rotations, are a part of every nursing degree program. Different schools structure them is different ways, but they all generally involve learning and performing under the direction of a preceptor in a work setting. Every minute of this time should be viewed as an opportunity to network and ultimately land a job.
It’s important to remember that your work performance is being evaluated while engaged in rotations. Not only are you being graded, but you’re being scouted. Therefore, ALWAYS exhibit your best attitude and highest level of diligence even if you have no interest in the area or specialty you’re working with at the time. Your preceptors are potential references and professional connections. They are individuals with experience and highly developed professional networks. They can be of great value to you during your job search regardless of where it leads you.
More importantly, remember that “your foot is in the door” when you are performing rotations. Take full advantage of the opportunity. Despite all the nay-saying about nursing new-grads easily landing jobs, a significant percentage of new-grads still land jobs with their clinical rotation employers.
5) A Bachelor of Science degree in nursing has become the minimum requirement for employment
The last five years has exhibited an ever-increasing trend in employers coveting and/or requiring BSN degrees as a minimum requirement. There is a lot of debate about this movement. We’re not here to discuss the validity of this trend, but rather the reality. The Institute of Medicine and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation issued a 2010 report calling for 80% of the RN workforce to have a Bachelors degree by 2020. The AACN has made BSN educated nurse managers a part of their Magnet Status qualifying criteria. Several states have repeatedly considered legislation that would require all new RNs to have a Bachelors degree within 10 years. And the National Student Nurses Association recognizes that new-grads with Associates degrees are having the most difficult time of all new-grads to land their first job.
This doesn’t mean that an Associates Degree is worthless. It just means that you will have a more difficult time landing that first job and should most certainly consider all options when doing so. Moreover, you should look to obtain your BSN right away in an effort to improve your job prospects.
If you have your heart set on a hospital nursing job, but are having difficulty landing one because you have an Associates Degree, then you may want to consider BSN programs that will give you the opportunity to do clinical rotations in acute care hospitals. For example, this accelerated BSN program from Roseman University requires more than 800 hours of clinical rotations in acute care hospitals. This makes it a great opportunity to get your BSN, work experience, and network at the same time.