Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everyone's Going to Nursing School

Just today I learned that one of my cousins is getting ready to enter nursing school. With three aunts who were nurses (one of whom served with General Patton during World War II), there is certainly a precedent in our family for some of us to pursue a career in nursing, and a laudable precedent at that. My cousin is yet another person realizing the potential economic benefits of being a nurse at a time when many Americans are searching for a new recession-proof career.

As older nurses continue to retire and the Baby Boomers enter their golden years, the demand for nurses certainly seems to continue unabated. Recent reports, however, indicate that a strained economy is forcing many nurses who used to enjoy part-time or per diem work back into full-time positions, making competition for jobs more challenging for new nurses entering the field. And with nursing schools overwhelmed with applicants and short on professors to teach those fledgling nurses, many would-be nursing students may turn to other allied health professions like Occupational, Physical, or Speech Therapy.

A recent article published in the South Florida Business Journal cites a new study by The Florida Center for Nursing which concludes that attrition from the nursing profession is far greater than the influx of new nurses. For example, in the last two years, the number of nurses in Florida increased by 27,000, however more than 50% of that gain was offset by nurses leaving the field, making the net gain of nurses around 11,000.

With more than 3 million registered nurses in the United States at this time, it's clear that the profession is still holding its own as one of the backbones of the health care industry. Still, with a shortage of qualified professors due to a large wave of retirements and few willing to replace them due to better salaries for clinical positions, all signs indicate that the overall shortage of nurses will continue to plague the United States---and most of the world---for some time to come.

In my view, geriatrics and long term care are sure bets for future nursing job opportunities, and those who are willing to pursue an advanced degree as Nurse Practitioners specializing in geriatrics will likely be readily employable in most regions of the country, especially those areas most popular with retirees.

I am thrilled that my cousin is pursuing the family legacy of a nursing career, and I pray that she will be accepted to the school of her choice and be readily employed upon her graduation. Still, one must be realistic that the calculus of the nursing shortage and the opportunities for employment have indeed changed since the days when new grads waltzed into jobs demanding any salary they pleased. Despite the shortage, competition for jobs is stiff, and the competition to get into nursing school equally as difficult.

For myself, having taken almost a year off for travel and writing, I am readying myself to look for a job in the Santa Fe area where my wife and I plan to spend the summer, if not the next year. While I may be fluent in Spanish and have a relatively impressive resume (home health, community health, hospice, and public health), I have never worked in a hospital and thus am somewhat limited in the type of nursing jobs I can pursue. I do not anticipate finding work to be overly challenging, but in the current climate, I realize that it may not be as simple as it once may have been. And with new grads flooding the market and willing to work for less than seasoned nurses accustomed to higher wages, perhaps finding the perfect part-time nursing job may be more challenging than I originally anticipated.

There's no question that nurses are highly trusted professionals who are sorely needed by an aging population. But in the current economic climate, can enough well-paying jobs be created for the seasoned nurses and new grads who are more than willing to don their scrubs and get to work? Only time---and economic forces---will tell.
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