Amber Tench did her homework before deciding to enter a two-year nursing program last year. She talked with nurses, met with career counselors and searched...

Amber Tench did her homework before deciding to enter a two-year nursing program last year. She talked with nurses, met with career counselors and searched the Internet.

Then she took the leap.

“I’ve always wanted to do something to help other people, but I also had to be practical,” said Tench, who graduated from Habersham County High School in northeast Georgia in 2011 and attends nearby North Georgia Technical College.

“Everyone hears about the tangible benefits of going into nursing nowadays, from other nursing students, from schools. It pays well, and people will always require health care, so there will always be a need for nurses,” said Tench.

It’s true that the need for nurses will never disappear, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that 711,900 new nursing jobs will be created by 2020.

But in the current economy, the job prospects for a nurse are surprisingly uncertain.

For years, the profession suffered from labor shortages, and a nursing degree was considered a sure ticket to a job. Now many new graduates struggle to find work.

More than one-third of newly licensed RNs graduating in 2011 had not found employment four months after graduation, according to a September 2011 survey of more than 3,700 new RN grads by the National Student Nurses Association.

Eighty percent of the grads said employers were hiring only RNs with at least two years of experience; 70 percent said the market was flooded with new graduates like themselves; 45 percent encountered hiring freezes; and 20 percent said that even previously employed RNs were being laid off.

“I’ve seen so many television ads sponsored by nursing schools, and I’ve listened to several recruiters from local and state schools, and they all really focus on the need for new graduates,” Tench said.

Today, unemployed nurses – with and without experience – are sharing their frustrations by joining, a social media site for nurses. New graduates dominate the site’s opening page. A sampling of four posts from the site shows the level of worry, even desperation:

“I can’t get a job. I have a degree and I have a license and I have many loans and bills that are due.”

“I’m working at a retail store in the mall.”

“Out of the seemingly hundreds of applications I’ve put in, I’ve had only two interviews, neither of which worked out. At this point, I’m feeling pretty hopeless and really just need a job.”

“Help!!! I’ve tried hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices. I’ve stayed up all night crying about this for months, and I feel like by the time I do finally get a job I’ll practically [have forgotten] everything I’ve learned!”

The weak economy is the main reason for the disconnect between expectations and reality, says David Auerbach, a health economist at RAND Corporation. Many hospitals need more nurses but can’t afford to pay them. Retirement-age nurses are staying on as long as they can because they need the pay. And many nurses who used to take a hiatus in their 30s to raise children are no longer doing so because their spouses have lost jobs.

The situation is not completely hopeless, though, says Peter Buerhaus, an RN and health economist at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. As the economy gets better, he says, there will again be a nursing shortage, and hiring will resume.

While studying to be a nurse at NGTC, Tench works at a supermarket, a job that helps her pay the bills that go with a college education.

And a job as a nurse, she hopes, will help cover any bills that are left over after graduation.

Alyssa Sellers is a graduate student at the University of Georgia. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication with a concentration in telecommunications.

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Alyssa Sellers

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  • BSN Nursing Grad 1967

    One of the problems facing new nursing graduates is that they are geographically bound. Many of them are unable to leave their local communities because of family relationships–husbands cannot relocate, other family obligations (care of parents, etc) prevent them for moving away to areas that may not have such restrictions. This has not been measured in any study that I have seen. Many of these new graduates are not entering nursing school immediately after high school (when they are unmarried or not in a long-term relationship) as occurred when I went to nursing school (46 years ago). The nursing schools are probably not advising potential students about the local job market or the impact of their life obligations on the ability to find a job after graduation. They just want to enroll students to assure the income for their programs. After teaching in a rural area for several years, I also met students who did not want to leave their family home and community–if they haven’t investigated the job market in that community, they have been deluded aboutg the nursing shortage. Why do hospitals/health care agencies want job experience–it’s very simple. Orientation costs them much less money! However, the other impetus is to hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree when they can–hospitals have finally learned the advantages of that educational track.
    So a 2-year degree is often a disadvantage. The solutions are not easy to this part of the nursing problem.
    BSN Nursing Grad 1967

    • tmmath

      According to projections, the US will need 700,000 nurses to take care of aging population. Nursing is an “OLD” profession age wise.. a large number of nurses are over 55 and will be retiring. Here in AZ it is much the same story. However, it is partially a self-inflicted problem. There are many of the local hospitals that have become enamored with “Magnet” status that requires the hospital’s nursing staff to be 85% BSN and will not take an AD grad application. The 3 In state university programs are basically “2 year” programs. The students take all the “nuring prerequisites” the first 2 years and compete for a spot in the nursing program portion the last 2 years; hence, just like the community college programs … they do all the nursing curriculum in 2 years. There is very limited space in these programs and will never ever met the projected demand for RN’s. Additonally, the cost of these public and private programs is close to 45K or more. Economically, it makes more sense to go to the community college, obtain a 2 year degree, then go to Univerity of Texas, Arlington, on-line, accredited, RN to BSN program for $8,500. Arizona States RN to BSN on-line program, taking fewer credits, costs over 24k!… and once you get BSN you get less than a dollar per hour raise! Big Duh!

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  • TRuff

    There is and will always be jobs available as long as there is an Indian Health Service or DOD. These are viable available jobs on the market. The trick is they are in remote areas and some Indian Reservations. A civilian nurse in the IHS makes a lot more money outside the metro cities and the pay is much higher on entry as a BSN over an ADN. The more Ed you have the more money you will make and the experience is invaluable. TRuff RN (1988), COUSPHS email me for Qs.

    • Amercan111

      I’d liketo know more…

    • just think

      people really have to stop saying there is always. this sounds just like the people who says the housing market wont crash. but it did. Also with all these schools pumping out people there is a limit.
      Thinking about going to nurse school? do you homework go and look around.

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  • Maurine Hutt-Roller

    The problem with new graduates finding a job is that it is a buyer’s market, esp. in urban areas. We have the exact opposite problem here in rural America. I am a marketer for Good Samaritan Society in Alliance Nebraska and we are desperate for LPNs and RNs out here. So if you are willing to relocate for a few years you can gain all the experience you need in long term care! Just go to and check us out in Nebraska!

  • Ey

    I’m currently enrolled online to get my bachelor’s for nursing. I’ve been an RN for the past 5 years, 4 of them as a travel nurse. Now that I can no longer travel I am having serious issues finding a permanent job. Even staffing agencies are not returning my calls. I’m afraid that I am going back to school for nothing and end up paying loans for a career that may be over for me. I’ve resorted to taking bartending classes and looking for waitressing jobs.

    • monroe

      Hi Ey I feel your pain. I have been in nursing for 20 years and traveled and worked in another country. You are looked upon as unstable. The market is flooded . The universities dont care they are making tons of money.I was working in a remote area and making alot of money I left to come home close my my kids……..There are no jobs ….just the one,s where they work you short and put your license on the line…….

  • Intheknow

    I have been in nursing 15 years and there is now an overabundance of nurses. Some rural areas are hiring prn, but are you really going to move to Idaho to work one day per month?

    • RN

      so true

  • Melissa

    I’m a BSN, (since May), and can’t find a job. I worked as a CNA for 4 years now and am using it to pay my bills AND loans (over $30,000). My boyfriend lives in S. California, and I live outside of Philadelphia. Neither place hires. We both rent and have obligations on our leases. Something has to give. I am demoralized to the point of not renewing my license. It hasn’t gotten me anywhere as it is.

  • Clarice King

    The older nurse is also having a hard time finding work. As an older worker the newer nurse is needed to help educate the older nurse in changing trends and the older nurse is needed to orientate the new nurse in the various healthcare settings. The younger nurse will need an experienced nurse that has patience and who will encourage the new nurse. As an older nurse training the new nurse I always found such a rewarding experience.

  • Nanny Goat

    You can seem to find certain types of jobs, but they’re less desirable ones for most of us with experience. Ones involving rotating shifts, nights, on call, nursing homes. The “better” jobs are few and far between, believe me, I’ve lived in different states and this is the way it is.

  • Rhonda

    I have 8 yrs experience as an RN and cant get a job… I have been with agencies 4 yrs now.. we get no raises, no health benefits, no pto.. Nursing is not a good field

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  • Issam Abbas Mahdi

    Can i hire an indian CVA nurse to be located in Baghdad-Iraq

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