What nursing shortage? Some RNs say they are struggling to find work

Several readers who are registered nurses have objected to yesterday’s post citing a nursing shortage in the state, saying they have been struggling to find a job for months. In particular, they say, newly licensed nurses are having a hard time getting work.

The Massachusetts Hospital Association and the regional chapter of the Organization of Nurse Leaders yesterday released the results of a survey conducted in December. To be fair, they didn’t say explicitly that there was a nursing shortage. I used that word. But, the survey found that the rate of vacant nursing positions at hospitals in the state had gone up since 2010, and that it was taking longer for hospitals to fill each position.

“Hospitals are reporting that it’s taking longer to recruit for open positions,” David Smith, senior director of health data analysis and policy for the hospital group, said in an e-mail. “We don’t have any details about other possible reasons for increased vacancy rates.”

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Lisa M. of Attleboro said she has been licensed as a nurse in Massachusetts since May 2011. But she had her first interview for a job only last week, she said. Lisa asked that I not use her last name because she has taken a job as a secretary in Boston and does not want to compromise that position.

She said she has always been interested in nursing and thought it would be a more flexible job for her, as a mother. But after graduating from the Community College of Rhode Island, she couldn’t find a job.

“I had no choice but to go back to being a secretary to pay off two years worth of bills and tuition piled up on a part time salary,” she said, in an e-mail.

During her schooling, Lisa worked for two years in a hospital as a student nurse. When she was bumped from that role by another hospital employee, she said, she was turned away by nursing homes and doctors offices that would only consider a nurse with a bachelor’s degree.

“Hospitals are NOT hiring new grads,” she wrote. They advertise openings for people who have experience but “are unwilling to invest in new graduates.” Other letter writers shared similar stories.

Annie Baxter of Minnesota Public Radio in May offered an interesting look at the nursing market in that state. She wrote:

By the end of last year, for every 100 RNs with jobs, there were only about two openings. That’s no better than the average job vacancy rate for Minnesota’s overall labor market.

At this point, [state labor market analyst Oriane] Casale said, the market for nurses is basically in equilibrium.

“It definitely seems like supply has caught up with demand,” she said.

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