Nursing Shortage, or Job Shortage?

Rob – Fotolia.com

This article in Forbes questions whether nursing has been overhyped as a career. It concludes, however, that nursing is still extraordinarily strong, even if the ebb and flow of jobs has not progressed exactly as predicted.

Many nursing schools increased their enrollments due to predictions that there would be a major nursing shortage starting about now. The nursing shortage is currently not as severe as predicted, though, so nursing students are not all finding jobs right away.

However, there is a lot of variation. For example, students who attended accelerated associated degree programs at community colleges are having a harder time finding jobs than students who received diplomas from four-year programs from colleges or universities.

Ellen Cram, assistant dean for undergraduate and pre-licensure programs at the University of Iowa’s College of Nursing, said employers in the state have expressed a clear preference for nurses with baccalaureate degrees or higher qualifications. The state trend reflects a larger shift in the nursing sector, she said.

“In my mind this is very much like what happened in the field of education, and how it used to be that teachers were good students themselves … and now in order to get an education certificate you must have a baccalaureate degree and particular training in teaching,” Cram said. “I think nursing is moving to the same place, particularly with the research that’s been done that patient outcomes are better … the greater the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate.”

Cram said Iowa is working to establish relationships between two-year and four-year schools that will help nurses with associate degrees continue to baccalaureate studies. Associate degree graduates are currently three times more common in the state than baccalaureates, she added.

There were more than 2.7 million jobs for RNs in 2010, based on the latest BLS information available. The BLS also states that nursing positions are expected to increase rapidly alongside rising demand for outpatient care, long-term care facilities and home healthcare.

Mancino argues that growth in outpatient, or ambulatory, care does not necessarily help employment prospects for young nurses, cautioning that those treatments are less reliant on nurses than inpatient procedures.

“When they were making projections for workforce needs for RNs, I’m not sure they took into account the shifting workforce needs,” she said.

But those shifting workforce needs might alternately be an area of untapped employment potential. Nursing jobs in hospitals are tougher to come by today, as institutions tighten their belts and employees postpone retirement, said Judy Honig, associate dean of student affairs at the Columbia University School of Nursing. Outpatient care and other less traditional settings, on the other hand, have a need for nurses with innovation, creativity and command of their field.

“When you get out there in a home, you really do have to have better decision-making skills and a bigger toolbox then you do in a hospital where you can just hit the call button. You have to know your material, you have to know what nursing is,” Honig said. “The nurse in those situations in rural areas may be the most educated health professional in the near area … That’s a challenge but I think that’s a big area that will be developed as we move forward.”

Cram said she thinks the aging population and other factors will keep employment opportunities for nursing graduates strong. Certain regions and cities are more competitive than others, she said, but the market always needs well-prepared nurses with critical thinking skills. She added that she does not foresee a shortage in nursing services as long as economic uncertainty discourages current employees from retiring.

The 26 percent increase in nursing jobs between 2010 and 2020 predicted by the BLS far exceeds the average for all occupations, which is 14 percent.

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