November 10, 2011 -- It took Jennifer Wieczorek, a 2008 graduate of Linfield College's nursing program, a year and a half to find a job using her degree – and she was the last person in her cohort to do so.
While in school, Wierczorek had a verbal agreement with Legacy Good Samaritan that she’d work there as an operating room nurse upon graduation. But it took longer than expected to pass her board certification exams, and by the time she did, Legacy didn't have a position for her anymore.
Newly graduated nurses face many of the same challenges as other college graduates, said Mary Rita Hurley, executive director of the Oregon Center for Nursing (OCN), a nonprofit nursing advocacy organization. When she graduated from nursing school 33 years ago, hospitals aggressively recruited nurses, she said.
After working as a nurse at a summer camp in Wisconsin and working for the in-home health industry, Wierczorek eventually got a job offer for what she had set out to do -- as an operating room nurse for Legacy.
While she was searching, many prospective employers told her, “We'd love to hire you, but you don't have any experience.” Now, Legacy hires new graduates into a residency program, so they can get additional clinical experience.
Last year, only 39 percent of nursing graduates were offered jobs in hospitals and healthcare systems, according to a report released by OCN in September, “Nurses Wanted: The Changing Demand for Nurses in Oregon,” while the figures are 100 percent for long-term care and public health positions..
“There's still a shortage out there, but it's not in hospitals,” Hurley said. The growth is in long-term care, and while those facilities don't want to hire new graduates, the positions are better suited to more experienced nurses.”
“It used to get a bad rap. Now you've got to be sharp as a tack,” Hurley said of working in long-term care. Patients live in long-term care facilities much longer, and are sicker. One nurse may have 10 or 15 nursing assistants reporting to them – too large a workload for someone without experience.
Also, because of the recession, baby boomers haven't retired in the last few years -- or they've come out of retirement to support their families.
“Gen X is really pissed off at us because we've bottlenecked the workplace,” Hurley said.
Because of the recession, the pool of nurses has changed, said Maggi Broggel, vice president of quality services at Emeritus Senior Management, and her company, which operates assisted living facilities, has been able to hire nurses with a tremendous amount of experience. “We now have nurses that have retired or were going to retire but have not because of this recession.”
While Wieczorek was in school, several faculty quit because they couldn’t afford to do it anymore, something Hurley said is also contributing to the looming shortage.
There’s also a problem gaining entry into nursing programs because instructors only make a fraction of what they could earn elsewhere. And, it’s likely to worsen over the next few years because the average age of a nursing instructor is 58.
“A lot of excellent things are happening,” Hurley said, but “if Oregonians knew what was looming, they would freak out.”
Read the full OCN study here.