By Jennifer Larson, contributor
January 14, 2011 - The nursing profession may be looking forward to better job prospects in 2011, as the economy continues to improve after the recent recession.
“The job market for registered nurses is simply going to pick up,” said Peter McMenamin, Ph.D., senior policy fellow with the American Nurses Association. “If not in 2011, soon.”
“There’s almost no way it can go down,” he added.
Andrea Higham, director of J&J’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future, expects more nursing jobs will open up in 2011.
Andrea Higham, director of Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future, took a similarly optimistic tack.
“I think with [a stabilizing economy], you’ll see a lot more nursing jobs open up,” she said.
Technically, the economy has been in recovery for some time. The recession, which began in December 2007, ended in June 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research. But the effects have lingered. Some economists have referred to the period since June 2009 as a “jobless recovery” because many industries have rebounded but unemployment numbers have remained high (9.4 percent in December 2010).
Unlike most industries, however, health care has fared pretty well, continuing to add jobs across the board. But some pockets of the country, most notably on the West Coast and in the Northeast, did experience a tightening in the job market for certain nursing positions. New graduates found few vacancies for acute-care hospital jobs in some of those areas; due to the lagging economy, more experienced nurses were staying on the job, instead of retiring. Many hospital leaders were able to hire more experienced nurses instead of the new grads—and so they did.
“We (still) have a lot of new graduates not able to get jobs,” said DeAnn McEwen, an executive vice president for the union National Nurses United, and an ICU nurse working in California.
But experts say that the job situation will likely improve as the year unfolds. The first half of 2010 did not result in sustained job growth for hospitals, but by August, hospitals were starting to steadily add more jobs. In December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that health care employment grew, expanding by 36,000 jobs, including 8,000 in hospitals alone. That’s good news for nurses in search of hospital jobs, as well as in other arenas, which also added jobs.
Longer range projections are favorable, too. In fact, U.S. News & World Report even listed “registered nurse” as one of its 50 Best Careers of 2011, noting that the profession “should have strong growth over the next decade.” And last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics projected that there would be 3.2 million jobs for nurses by the year 2018, an increase of 581,000, or 22 percent, from 2008.
Health care reform may also have the effect of opening up more jobs in nursing in the future. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act, voted into law in 2010, is expected to result in the need for many more nurses to care for the expected 30-plus million people who will be added to the insurance rolls.
Additionally, many are calling for advanced practice nurses to provide primary care and fill the gaps left by a shortage of primary care physicians.
“We really need to do everything that we can to increase visibility for that career choice,” said Higham, noting that the Campaign for Nursing’s Future soon will be launching some new initiatives to support nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses.
Another factor that will eventually lead to an increase in nursing job vacancies is the aging of the U.S. population, McMenamin said.
The oldest baby boomers are turning 65 this year and becoming eligible for Medicare. Since Medicare tends to offer better coverage than many private insurance programs and because most people tend to experience a decline in health as they get older, the demand for health care is likely to increase. And that’s likely to result in a greater demand for nurses.
But at the same time that demand is likely to increase, there’s likely to be a large wave of baby boomer nurses retiring. Like the general population, the nursing workforce is continuing to age; according to the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, the average age of a registered nurse in 2008 rose to 47. Many older nurses stayed in the workforce when the economy dipped, but as it improves, they’re likely to begin retiring, which will open up jobs, McMenamin said.
He emphasized that he cannot predict an exact number of jobs that could open up for nurses in 2011. “But it looks like there will be an awful lot of opportunity,” he said.
McEwen agreed. “There is a growing population that needs nursing care, so I think the overall forecast for nursing is good. There is always going to be a need,” she said.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that need to be addressed, she cautioned, noting that the shortage of available slots in nursing schools for qualified applicants—and enough faculty and resources to support their education—will continue to be a major concern this year.
That’s also a concern highlighted by McMenamin.
“We need to keep increasing the stock of nurses, the new graduates,” he said. “The constraint, I think, is going to be the nurse instructors.”
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