Most people in the United States interested in the nursing field have heard of the nursing shortage, with much emphasis placed on predictions of a severe shortage in the near future. For many newly graduated nurses, the anticipated shortage played a role in the reason why they choose nursing as a career path.
But despite predictions, many newly graduate nurses (new grads) are having difficulties finding employment. Genevieve M. Clavreul, PhD, RN, has noted that “[t]his is a common affliction for the newly graduated/licensed nurse. They are being exposed to the now-common message of the massive nursing shortage … leaving the expectation that with such a critical shortage there will be job openings aplenty.” New grads are finding that this not to be the case: It’s hard to find a job as an RN in this era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was one of those new grads and want to share my experience so others know they aren’t alone.
I went into the nursing for many reasons, but one was job security. I assumed that with such a severe shortage of nurses, I would have an easier time finding a good job and keeping it. I’m an African America woman who knew from research and articles that I had read (including one written by Christian E. Weller titled “African Americans face systematic obstacles to getting good jobs”) that discrimination based on race would often play a factor in the job opportunities that I received. Keeping this in mind, I started looking for a position as an RN at the beginning of March 2020, about 6 weeks before graduation. Unfortunately, this was also the time when the United States started coming to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic.
I planned to relocate from Salt Lake City to Washington D.C., after graduation, so sought employment from many reputable healthcare organizations hiring within a 30-mile radius of the D.C area. I was unsuccessful and received several rejection letters. I learned later that many of the places where I applied had started to implement hiring freezes, but I didn’t know that at the time. Instead, I assumed my lack of success was because I hadn’t yet graduated and taken the NCLEX. I continued to apply for new and different jobs until I graduated on April 17; I passed the NCLEX on April 27. I also got certifications in Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) because I noted that many job postings listed those certifications as preferred qualifications for a potential candidate. I then renewed my efforts to find employment and even relocated to D.C. at the end of May, when COVID-19 was still a major concern in the east coast, thinking that my physical presence in the area might increase my chances of landing a job.
It wasn’t until June 25 that I received my first real job offer—a full-time position with benefits, relatively good pay, and in a reputable organization. I started my job on July 13, so four and a half months passed from the time I started looking for a job at the beginning of March to when I started my new position. The experience destroyed my presumptions of job security that I once associated with the nursing profession. I fear for my future and wonder how stable my job is.
My experience isn’t unusual. Many graduate nurses are experiencing longer than anticipated unemployment times after nursing school. Some may even have had positions lined up before the pandemic hit but have since lost those job assurances. One of the main reasons for this is that many hospitals and facilities are instituting hiring freezes. Nancy A. Anuruo and Heather J. Kagan explain how the “… diversion of health care resources towards the care of those with the virus [COVID-19] has been an unprecedented financial drain, since then many of the hospitals’ usual stream of revenue— including pricey elective surgeries—has been shut off.” Nursing students across the United States are graduating and entering this environment, an environment where nurses may desperately be needed to handle the influx of patients battling the pandemic, but hospitals and facilities can’t afford to hire them, because they are losing money. In addition to not hiring, some organizations are cutting the hours of, furloughing, or laying off their current employees. The way many large hospitals, the ones that typically hire the most nurses, make money is through their elective procedures, but many healthcare organizations have stopped performing these lucrative, but elective, procedures because of the pandemic.
Another factor that many graduate nurses may encounter is the fact that the national nursing shortage is just that, it is national. The data that are often provided to both active and prospective nursing students may not represent the need for nurses in their respective locations. The nursing shortage may be more severe and pronounced in one area compared to another. Graduating nursing students need to be aware of this. They should try to understand the real demand for nurses where they live.
Another factor new grads need to consider is that hospitals have hiring standards. Clavreul also noted in her article that, “… just because there is a nursing shortage doesn’t mean that hospitals, clinics, etc. will hire just anyone.” The new nurse has to meet the qualifications for the positions that they’ve applied for; therefore, new graduates need to work on improving their qualifications for the jobs they want. New grads also have to be flexible and recognize that they are new and just entering an already functioning organization and team. Clavreul also notes that with nursing schools expanding their programs, and thus educating and sending more nurses out into the workforce, this creates a larger worker supply for these healthcare organizations. “… So even with a shortage there is still quite a bit of competition for available slots.”
Many factors are influencing the current job prospects of new graduate nurses. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of them (for example hiring freezes), but others existed before the pandemic (meeting hiring standards). Newly graduated nurses need to have patience and understand that even with a shortage of nurses in the United States, jobs will not come easily. They may need to put in more effort, increase their qualifications, or reevaluate the demand for nurses in their area. Even with these efforts, getting a job may take months, but, as I learned, it’s possible to be successful.
Magdalie Carine Johnson in a nurse in Maryland.
Anoruo N. A., Kagan, H. J. Even nations’ largest health systems laying off health care workers amid COVID pandemic. ABC News. 2020. abcnews.go.com/Health/coronavirus-victim-americas-largest-health-systems/story?id=70317683.
Clavreul G. Why nursing school grads have trouble finding jobs. Working Nurse. Working Nurse website. 2020. workingnurse.com/articles/Why-Nursing-School-Grads-Have-Trouble-Finding-Jobs
Weller CE. African Americans face systemic obstacles to getting good jobs. Center for American Progress. American Progress. 2019. americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/12/05/478150/african-americans-face-systematic-obstacles-getting-good-jobs/