By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
October 20, 2011 - Although the economy has made it more difficult for some new nursing graduates to find jobs, the overall outlook for nursing employment remains strong.
“It is getting better in different ways and for different reasons,” said Robin Schaeffer, MSN, RN, CNE, executive director of the Arizona Nurses Association, citing differences in practice settings and educational requirements.
“Nursing is the best field to go into,” Schaeffer added.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the country will need more than half a million additional registered nurses by 2018.
Billie G. Blair, Ph.D., reported a continued need for nurses and career growth opportunities for travel nurses.
“Employment in nursing looks great,” said Billie G. Blair, Ph.D., president/CEO of Change Strategists in Temecula, Calif. “There’s a growing aging population so there will be no end, in the foreseeable future, for the continued growing need for nurses. Nursing during this decade is expected to grow at least 22 percent. It's one of the few fields in which this is happening.”
Blair also cited growth in travel nursing, something that fills a need for talent at a certain facility and creates potential career growth for nurses.
“It’s a growing field and one that offers good remuneration--great for the individual who has some flexibility and/or for new nurses just starting their careers,” Blair said. “It would be a career-broadening, growth opportunity.
Mary Molle, RN, Ph.D., PHCNS-BC, professor and the Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair for Nursing Partnerships in the Community at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, reported that regional variations in RN hiring exist, with urban areas being more competitive than rural areas, while some parts of the country continue to readily hire new graduates.
“At the moment, there isn’t a shortage of nurses in jobs, but there’s a shortage overall of the type of nurses qualified for the type of health care we are moving into,” said Molle, who also reported a need for more public health nurses--government jobs that have been lost during the down economy but will be needed in the years ahead.
Robin Schaeffer, MSN, RN, CNE, said that nursing remains the best field to go into.
Many more nurses will be working in the community as the emphasis in care shifts from treatment to health promotion and prevention, Schaeffer agreed.
“We have to shift our focus of education to prepare them to focus more on the health of the community,” Schaeffer said. “Nurses are primed to deliver that education and care.”
The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report is guiding some of the change.
The IOM report emphasizes the importance of additional education and suggests 80 percent of the nurses hold baccalaureate degrees by 2020. That is leading many employers to hire nurses with BSN degrees, making it more difficult for associate-degree-prepared nurses to secure jobs, Schaeffer says. Consequently some community colleges have developed with universities concurrent AAS-BSN degree programs, during which associate-degree students simultaneously take RN-to-BSN coursework at the university.
“Employers are in a buyers’ market these days, thus there will be a continued emphasis on the more highly skilled degree, that is the BSN,” Blair added.
In addition to needing more nurses with BSN degrees, Molle indicated an increased demand for nurses with graduate degrees to take more of a leadership role in coordinating and managing care. More education leads to more opportunities.
Mary Molle, RN, Ph.D., PHCNS-BC, expects the need for public health nurses will grow.
“The stars are aligning,” Molle added. “Along with the Institute of Medicine recommendations and health care reform moving forward, there seems to be an opportunity for nursing to step forward and improve health.”
Improving nursing data
The IOM report recommended building an infrastructure for the collection and analysis of interprofessional health care workforce data to strength workforce development efforts.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) has formed a triregulator collaborative with the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, to figure out how to collect workforce data in similar ways so data comparisons can be made, said Kathy Apple, MS, RN, FAAN, CEO of NCSBN.
To address the need for consistent nurse data collection, the NCSBN, which maintains a national licensure database, and the Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers will engage in a joint effort to collect nursing workforce data starting in 2012, with a published report anticipated in early 2013.
“This will change the way workforce data at the state level is collected, and we consider this an historic collaboration,” said Susan Reinhard, chief strategist at the Center to Champion Nursing in America, during a recent webinar announcing the initiative.
“The ability to better assess and project workforce requirements is really the foundation of our ability to plan for the coming changes in the preparation and deployment of the nursing workforce,” Reinhard added.
Brenda Cleary, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Sigma Theta Tau International Ageing Initiatives administrator, added that the project aims to collect consistent data across states.
“Uniform minimum datasets will allow for comparisons within and between states,” Cleary said. “And then the aggregate has a fluid way of informing federal policy and national planning.”
Linda Tieman, RN, MN, FACHE, president of the board of directors for the Forum of Nursing Workforce Centers, explained that in developing minimum data sets, the two organizations sought to include meaningful demographic information, educational levels, certification for advanced practice nurses, and employment status in nursing, in other fields or volunteering, including practice setting. They are also asking nurses about reasons for not working.
“If we could all collect these minimum elements, what power it would be for all of us to be able to compare across states, within regions of the country,” Tieman said. “Supply is fundamental in getting the full picture of what the nursing workforce looks like.”
States would be able to collect additional data, not reported to the national collaboration.
Schaeffer agreed that learning more about the supply of nurses is needed, but so is additional information about nursing demand, which needs to come from employers.
Money to strengthen the nursing workforce
Private entities and the federal government are recognizing the need to strengthen the nursing workforce.
Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States awarded more than $1.5 million in workforce grants to eight institutions of higher education, including five community colleges, in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, as part of its mission to invest in the future of health care. The workforce development grants will support an estimated 2,404 students with scholarships, equipment and educational training in nursing, allied health and health technology.
And in October, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $82 million in awards to help bolster the country’s nursing workforce. Administered by the agency’s Health Resources and Services Administration, the awards include $27 million for the Nursing Scholarship Program and $55.3 million for the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program.
“Nurses play a critical role in our health care system, and demand for them is expected to grow over the next decade,” Secretary Sebelius said. “These awards reflect our ongoing commitment to attract and retain highly skilled nurses in underserved areas.”
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