The Job Outlook for New Nurses


By Jennifer Larson, contributor

After successfully passing the NCLEX exam, new registered nurses are eager to get their first real job in healthcare. But some have had more luck than others. According to a new survey of nursing school leaders by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a growing number of health care employers seem to prefer nurses with a baccalaureate degree and are hiring accordingly.

“That indicates to us that getting a baccalaureate degree in nursing is a very good thing for your job prospects,” said Kathleen Potempa, Ph.D., RN, AACN president and dean of the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

Travel nursing agencies also look for nurses with degrees more now than in the past, which can impact future job prospects for those who want to travel.

The AACN surveyed 833 nursing schools that offer baccalaureate and graduate programs in August, garnering valid responses from 538. According to the results, the average job offer rate at the time of graduation for new graduates with a baccalaureate degree is 56 percent. But that rate jumps to 88 percent within the first six months after graduation. 

The job prospects seem to be even better for graduates who complete an entry-to-practice MSN degree. At the time of graduation, the rate of job offers for new MSN graduates was 74 percent, according to the schools with entry-level master’s programs that were surveyed by the AACN. That figure jumped to 92 percent by the six-month mark.

By comparison, not all new college graduates are so fortunate. The AACN reports that the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ national survey of recent graduates, covering a variety of disciplines, found that only 24 percent landed a job by graduation in 2010.

“No matter how you look at it, nursing is still in demand,” Andrea Higham, director of the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing's Future.

However, there is still some variation by region when it comes to job openings. For several years, the job market has been tighter in the western United States than in most other regions, and new graduates have fretted about having trouble landing a job after graduation, particularly in high-demand areas and high-demand specialties.

And the AACN data bears that out: the job offer rate for new BSN grads is significantly higher in the South than in the West (64 percent compared to 42 percent), while the job offer rate in the Midwest (57 percent) and the North Atlantic region (48 percent) fall in between.

The rate for MSN grads receiving job offers at the time of graduation is also highest in the South: 78 percent, compared with 74 percent in the West, 73 percent in the Midwest and 76 percent in the North Atlantic region. However, four to six months later, new graduate nurses are faring best in the Midwest, with 95 percent receiving job offers, while those in the South and North Atlantic are close behind at 92 percent and the Western states are at 84 percent.

“Like any new graduate, one doesn’t always get their first optimal choice initially out of school,” Potempa said. “They need to look at a variety of settings where jobs are available.”

That means that a new nurse searching for a first, post-college job might want to expand the search beyond acute-care hospitals and into settings such as skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation facilities, public health and community health agencies. The leadership skills and experience gleaned during a baccalaureate program could be extremely useful in those settings, Potempa said.

“There’s a whole world of people out there who need nurses,” she said.

New nurses might also consider moving to an area with a higher demand for nurses.

In the South, where there are more vacancies, the Campaign for Nursing's Future is hosting fundraiser galas to raise scholarship money for nurses who could one day fill those spots. The campaign recently held an event in South Carolina, and a similar event is scheduled for Tennessee in December. These states were chosen because of the significant need for nurses and the infrastructure in place, said Higham.

But a baccalaureate degree does seem to give the graduate a leg up, even in tighter job markets.

According to the survey responses, the AACN learned that 30 percent of health care employers require new nurses to have a BSN, and nearly 77 percent indicate that they prefer them.

Susan Elliott, Ph.D., RNC, APRN, professor and director of the department of nursing at Biola University in La Mirada, California, noted that hospitals in her area definitely seem to prefer nurses with baccalaureate degrees.

“First and foremost, they want to improve quality patient care,” Elliott said. “They know the BSN (nurse) is ready to model and lead quality patient care on the units, in the committee room and in policy.”

Additionally, Elliott added, nursing leaders in California have made it a priority to promote the implementation of the Institute of Medicine’s landmark Future of Nursing report, which calls for increasing the percentage of the nursing workforce with a BSN to 80 percent by 2020. 

Experts are also predicting that more job vacancies will be created when the baby boomers begin to retire in larger numbers; the first wave of them turned 65 this year.

Regardless of where a new nurse graduate lives, it’s important to maximize the chances for landing a job by making all the necessary steps to prepare. 

“Prepare for the interview,” said Elliott. “One hundred percent of our 2011 graduates who went through a mock interview with me were hired before or immediately after graduation.”

Higham recommended putting as much effort as possible into networking. Develop some relationships with other nurses, clinical supervisors and managers you may have worked with, so they’ll remember you if an opportunity opens up, she said.

“It’s all about making yourself stand out from the crowd,” she said.

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