Job Prospects Good for Well-Educated Nurses, Survey Shows

Most nursing students with bachelor's and master's degrees landed first job within six months of graduation last year, and signs suggest pattern will hold this year.

    • May 27, 2011

College graduates across the country are packing up their belongings, moving off campus and beginning what for many will be a protracted battle for an elusive job offer in the wake of a deep recession.

Nursing graduates, however, may land that coveted first job more quickly than their friends.

Prior to last year, nursing graduates of entry-level bachelor’s and master’s degree programs were much more likely to receive job offers by the time of graduation or soon after than were graduates from other fields, according to a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

AACN Executive Director Geraldine (Polly) Bednash, Ph.D., R.N., expects that trend to hold. The job outlook for well-educated nurses is “very positive,” she said.

Andrew Fruhschien, B.S.N., N.P., a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Jersey Nursing Scholar, is a case in point.

Fruhschien earned his bachelor’s degree three years ago—just before the economy tanked—and had his first-choice job lined up even before he graduated. Times are tougher now, but Fruhschien—who earned a graduate degree in nursing in May—already has had two job interviews for top-tier, high-paying nurse practitioner jobs near his home. “I feel confident that something will work out,” he said.

To be sure, prospects for new nurses aren’t as rosy as they were before the recession hit.

Experienced nurses have been picking up more hours, putting off retirement or going back to work to compensate for lost income from laid-off spouses or shrinking retirement accounts. That has given some health care organizations in some parts of the country a temporary reprieve from chronic nurse shortages and dulled employers’ incentive to hire more nurses.

Demand for nurses, meanwhile, has eased as people have lost their jobs, and their health insurance, and opted out of elective procedures or neglected health care altogether.

The combination has made jobs—particularly for newer nurses in need of experience and mentoring—harder to find in some parts of the country.

Nurse graduates with associate-level degrees may have a harder time finding work than their better-educated peers, Bednash said. More health care organizations are working to raise quality standards and meet consumer expectations for safe patient care, and that translates into higher demand for more educated nurses. In a down economy, employers are able to be more selective, and they are choosing better-educated graduates, she said.

“Before the recession, seniors knew they had positions before they graduated,” said Susan Bakewell-Sachs, R.N., Ph.D., P.N.P.-B.C., Carol Kuser Loser dean of the school of nursing, health, and exercise science at The College of New Jersey. Offers, and sometimes interviews, today are often on hold until graduates pass license examinations, she added. Bakewell-Sachs also directs the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, a project of RWJF and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation working to transform nursing education and reduce the looming nurse faculty shortage.

Plentiful Job Opportunities for Nurses in Long-Term, Home and Rural Health Care

Still, the nursing profession has weathered the recession better than other sectors. Opportunities for nurses abound in areas such as long-term and home health care and in rural parts of the country, Bednash said. And Bakewell-Sachs cited encouraging signs among graduating students at The College of New Jersey. More seniors have positions or interviews lined up now than at the same point last year, she said. “We are making progress.”

Nurse graduates can also take heart in the fact that the health care sector has seen growth throughout the recession. It is expected to continue to grow as the population ages, as nurses retire and as millions of new patients enter the health care system under the new health reform law.

Indeed, if this year is like last, most new nursing graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees will land a job within six months.

In 2010, 65 percent of new nursing graduates with bachelor’s degrees received job offers at the time of graduation, according to a national survey of deans and directors from U.S. nursing schools conducted by the AACN. By comparison, 24 percent of new graduates from other fields had offers at the time of graduation last year. Within six months of graduation, 89 percent of nurse graduates with bachelor’s degrees had job offers.

The longer-term outlook for nursing is excellent, Bednash and Bakewell-Sachs said.

Severe workforce shortages are expected to occur as the nation’s nurses, whose average age is in the late 40s, begin to retire en masse. At the same time, the population is living longer—and sicker—and is demanding more sophisticated and complex health care.

“We’re looking at a demographic time bomb,” Bednash said. “There is no way this nation is going to survive and deliver the health care we want without a huge number of nurses and without highly educated nurses. The job prospects for nurses are absolutely stunning.”

Bednash hopes that nurses with associate’s degrees who have a hard time finding work after graduation will take the opportunity now to earn a higher degree—a move that comports with a groundbreaking report on the future of nursing released last year by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommends that 80 percent of nurses have bachelor’s degrees by the year 2020.

“We need a much larger percentage of our workforce prepared at the baccalaureate level,” Bednash said. “The report provides impetus and external validation and energy to ramping up the work.”

Programs supported by RWJF, like the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, directed by Bakewell-Sachs, and New Careers in Nursing, directed by Bednash, also help to achieve the IOM report’s goal.

The New Jersey Nursing Initiative is a five-year, $22 million project that is working to ensure that New Jersey has the well prepared, diverse faculty it needs to educate nurses to meet the demand for health and health care in the 21st century. It is doing that in part by offering scholarships for master’s and doctoral degrees to nursing students who may go on to teach nursing in New Jersey and enable nursing schools to accept more students. The first cohort of scholars, of which Fruhschien is one, graduate this spring.

“We want to be able to build capacity in education where it is needed so we can meet demands for nurses with baccalaureate and higher degrees,” Bakewell-Sachs said.

New Careers in Nursing, meanwhile, provides scholarships to college graduates without nursing degrees who are enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate and master’s nursing programs. One of the goals is to expand capacity in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs.

Higher education is likely to pay off with an earlier job offer as well as higher pay. Overall, nurses with academic degrees and certifications are rewarded with higher pay, according to a 2011 Advance for Nurses salary survey.

Moreover, health care organizations, and the patients they serve, will benefit from more highly skilled nurses. “Patient needs have become more complicated, and nurses need to attain requisite competencies to deliver high-quality care,” the Future of Nursing report states.

Fruhschien agrees. “I am very fortunate that I went on and advanced my education,” he said. “It has elevated my level of understanding of different disease processes and treatment modalities. It makes me a better nurse.”

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