Blog | Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nurse shortage turns into a glut

For years we have heard there is a shortage of nurses and as recently as today, the California Senate Education Committee approved a bill (AB867) to "address a severe nursing shortage in California." The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) projects that 90% more RNs must be produced in order to meet the predicted need for one million new nurses in the American health care system by 2020.

So if there is such a shortage ... why can't new nurse graduates find a position? I was pleased to pass on the name of a new RN school graduate who had great references from previous allied health care work and was told by the hospital:

"Virtually no one is doing a new grad training program at this time. We have made the commitment to "trickle in" some new grads this fall and received over 1,000 applications for five positions. I might suggest this individual get their foot in the door as a nurse's aide, phlebotomist or some other non-nursing job. Unfortunately, the economy has turned our profound nursing shortage into a glut, virtually overnight."

Upon investigation I find that there is actually an overabundance of nurses in Canada, the Philippines as well as across the United States. There may be openings for experienced critical care nurses, but medical-surgical nurses are pounding the pavement looking for work and finding few or no jobs available. There are hundreds of nurses vying for every opening. The jobs just aren't there.

The downturn in the economy means more older nurses are keeping their jobs and delaying retirement. Hospital census is down and staffing is lean. Is that enough to turn a shortage into a glut? Apparently it is, or the prior predictions just weren't true.

Experts are still saying there will be a shortage after the recession is over that will only get worse in coming years. But for now, it looks like nurses are not in demand and there are thousands of unemployed RNs looking for work.

Toni Brayer, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.