When I started nursing school in 2008, a frequent topic of discussion among students was which department we wanted to work in upon graduation. Favorites included the ED, trauma, critical care, labor and delivery, and pediatrics. We saw ourselves reaching for diplomas as eager nurse managers welcomed us onto the units of our choice.
We'd read the articles, listened to the media reports. There was a nursing shortage! So we answered the call, hitting the books, working grueling clinical rotations.
Three years later, most of us can't find jobs.
We understand the reasons—the downturn in the economy, too few nurses retiring, part-time nurses working more hours. Intellectually, it makes sense, but that doesn't pay the bills or student loans. In fact, when my husband and I were considering how to pay for the $45,000 bachelor of science in nursing program to which I'd been accepted, I insisted we not use the money in our 401(k), certain that a hospital sign-on bonus would take care of a hefty chunk of the loan. I view that person from three years ago the same way that I see my adolescent self, and cringe at my naïveté.
Incidentally, my 401(k) savings came in handy during my job search, paying for things like food and shelter—the most fundamental level of need in Maslow's hierarchy, as I learned in my nursing fundamentals class. (Now I can at least understand the basic theory behind my needs not being met.)
The California Institute for Nursing and Health Care (CINHC) launched a much-needed pilot program in the Bay Area last year to help new RNs develop their skills and find jobs. The organization also worked with state nursing and education organizations to survey newly licensed nurses in California, the results of which were made available on CINHC's Web site in early November. These reveal that 85% of respondents would be willing to participate in unpaid internships; in fact, 47% would pay for such an internship. Ninety-three percent said their lack of experience prevented them from finding employment.
Other than more experience and, obviously, a job, what else do recent graduates need?
We need empathy. We need hugs. We need people to listen to our complaints. What we don't need are platitudes. In fact, here's a helpful list of what not to say to a demoralized new graduate:
- "Persistence pays off." We know. We are nothing if not persistent. Just ask the hiring managers we relentlessly pursue.
- "Just take any job." That's what we'd like to do. Please give us one.
- "Have you thought of relocating?" Yes. Where shall we go?
- "It's only temporary." In terms of days, months, or years?
I understand that recent graduates in many fields besides nursing have encountered as much difficulty in finding employment. In addition, recent anecdotal reports show a gradual increase in the number of health care workers being hired. I recently became one of these lucky few nurses. During my seven-month search for a full-time position, I'd taken a job at a rural mountain clinic that required a three-hour, round-trip commute and I'd volunteered every Saturday night for six months in the ED of a major hospital in my city. I credit the latter effort with helping me to ultimately land one of six new-graduate, full-time positions there. More than 640 new nurses had applied.
Many of my friends from nursing school are still searching for employment, and a couple of them have had to take jobs unrelated to nursing. I'm glad they're now employed, but I worry about the future of our profession when enthusiastic new nurses are forced to look elsewhere for employment. There's talk of another nursing shortage due to materialize in 2020. If today's graduates aren't given the opportunity to work as nurses, how much worse will this next shortage be?