Economy leaves nursing graduates in tough job market

Senior nursing major Diana Singer said nursing has always been a “cutthroat major.” Because of the recent downturn in the economy, however, Singer said she has noticed there has been more competition.

Suzy Lockwood, associate professor of nursing, said that because of the recent economic downturn recent nursing graduates have less job choices than in the past.

Physician’s offices cannot support the salary of a nurse as much as they could in the past, Lockwood said. Some part-time nurses have also become full-time nurses either because they need the hours because they are a single parent or because their husband or wife lost his or her job, she said. Other nurses who had stopped working also have had to come back to work, she said.

Lockwood said the biggest challenge for nursing graduates is that these job trends mean they cannot find a job in certain areas where they were able to find jobs in the past five or six years.

These areas of nursing include such positions as intensive care nursing, labor and delivery and emergency-room nursing, Lockwood said.

“And now what we are seeing over the last two years, or really even the last year, has been that hospitals are not employing new grads in those areas,” Lockwood said.

Nursing graduates have been interested in areas of high-acuity, or areas where patients have multiple needs, are very ill, and have multi-system or multi-organ issues, Lockwood said. For nursing graduates, these jobs look like areas where they are going to be very engaged and challenged, she said.

There are still plenty of positions for new graduates, Lockwood said. The difference is that the positions now available to new graduates are usually medical-surgical or in general hospital units instead of those specialty, high-acuity areas where students or new graduates might have lower patient loads or lower patient assignments.

There are positions available where nursing students haven’t always been interested in because they don’t seem very exciting, Lockwood said.

“But as a nursing faculty and as an old nurse, I think that the reality is that that’s really where new grads need to be, is in those med-surge areas because that’s where they need to be to get that real foundation and really good basic nursing so that in a year or two they can go out and be really strong, good nurses and move into those areas where the patient acuity is much higher,” Lockwood said.

Paulette Burns, dean of the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said this is a trend that will not last very long because nurses who have returned to work will retire, providing new job opportunities for nursing graduates.

Burns said Texas has called for state nursing programs to almost triple the number of nurses they graduate by 2020. People are living longer, and a large part of the nursing workforce will retire, she said.

Lockwood said both the state of Texas and the nation at large are concerned about the number of nurses available compared to the number of nurses needed in the next 10 to 20 years given the size of the population.

Courtney Devlin, a senior nursing major, said she wants a job in critical care and that the economy has affected how hard she has worked in school.

“It has affected me in the sense that I knew I would have to put in a lot of hard work and effort to be in the top of the class in order to have my pick of places to go work or at least be a well-rounded candidate,” Devlin said. “If there truly is going to be an economic downturn in the field of nursing, I don’t want to be a part of it.”

Devlin said if she were not able to immediately go into critical care for whatever reason, she would find the next best thing.

“I will evaluate the job market, I’ll see what’s out there,” Devlin said. “I would hope that I am a qualified candidate for any job that I’m going to apply for, but wherever I get hired is where I’m going to work because I need the money.”

Lockwood said there are nursing graduates who have been offered jobs and have chosen not to take those jobs because they weren’t in the areas they wanted. Likewise, she said, there are nursing graduates who didn’t get interviews in the areas they wanted and consequently graduated without having jobs.

Burns said that generally, nursing graduates who are jobless after graduation are so by choice. Sometimes they are trying to decide between two offers or graduate school, Burns said.

Lockwood said some graduates are too particular about the kind of jobs they would take and where they would take them. With the way health care and the economy are right now, the likelihood of getting a job that meets such particular requirements is difficult, she said.

“You’re going up against women and men who are making choices to go back to work because of the economy,” Lockwood said. “We have nurses who haven’t worked in years who are now going back to work, and so you’re going up against experienced nurses, you’re going up against nurses who had been part-time who had been working in those areas who are now going full-time, and you’re going up against a larger number of graduates because we have been challenged to increase our enrollment and to increase the number of grads that we have.”

There are only so many positions and hospitals, Lockwood said.

Lockwood said one of the things she tells seniors is that they can’t just interview in Fort Worth.

“If you want to live in Fort Worth, you can live in Fort Worth and work in Dallas or you can live in Arlington and work in Dallas,” Lockwood said. “And so, I’ve really challenged them that you’ve got to put your application at every hospital because there are so many hospitals and they’re all looking for nurses, but if you are going to narrow your choices to this very small area, then the possibility of you not finding a job is going to be high because there’s a lot of people out there.”

Joan Clark, Texas Health Resources senior vice president/chief nursing executive, said areas of far west and rural Texas are still experiencing a nursing shortage and that job prospects are still very good there.

Pam Frable, associate dean and director of nursing at the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said in the past five years, the majority of nursing students did not have to work very hard to get a job.

“They typically had several choices of usually their first choice facilities or first choice areas with a minimal amount of effort compared to now they would probably need to follow job seeking strategies that other graduates would need to follow,” Frable said.

Good networking is among those strategies, Frable said.

Other job seeking strategies for nursing graduates include telling people they know that they are looking for certain kinds of jobs, volunteering strategically in places where they might meet or interact with nursing professionals and being professional at interviews, Frable said.

Frable said as a new nursing graduate, the most important thing is to hone the skills they have learned in school like clinical reasoning, communication skills, assessment skills, the ability to work with a team and the technical skills they have for good patient care.

“That’s going to be true in any setting, so the whole idea of blooming where you’re planted is a good one. That’s an old cliché, but it works,” Frable said.