Some recent nursing grads are finding it more difficult to find jobs than was promised during school

Marni Flores, who recently graduated from MSC Nursing program, holds the unused scrubs with the price tag still on them at her home in Grand Junction. She is having a hard time finding a nursing job locally.



Throughout the last 2 1/2 years of nursing school at Mesa State College, students became accustomed to the mantra: Not only would they immediately find work, they’d be able to pick out their dream jobs.

Since graduating in December with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, that’s hardly been the case for Marni Flores and a number of her colleagues now seeking work locally.

“As a new grad, it’s pretty tough right now,” said Flores, who graduated from the college alongside 29 others with similar degrees. “It seems like a lot of nurses who were traveling have decided to come home and land. They’re taking those positions. There’s no longer a shortage of nurses in Grand Junction, and it’s really putting pressure on new graduates.”

Nursing positions for new graduates, positions which have long been considered recession-proof, have all but dried up locally in the past two months. St. Mary’s Hospital’s Web site shows the hospital is hiring only nurses with at least two years of experience. Just three months ago, 15 to 20 nursing openings at the hospital potentially could have been snapped up by new graduates.

Flores said recruiters from hospitals in Delta, Montrose and Rangely courted students still in nursing school, but now those entities are cutting back on hiring new grads.

The new, 15-bed Family Health West hospital in Fruita is slated to open in July, and St. Mary’s Hospital’s expansion should be open by early 2010. While those are healthy indicators of potential jobs, it’s a long time to wait as student loans become due.

Flores said the lack of job prospects has placed recent grads in a bind: Either try to wait out the hiring lull, lower expectations of their first nursing job or relocate.

One fellow grad has been working at a bank since graduating in December. Flores had been offered a job as a manager at a retail store. Others in her class who have found nursing work scored those jobs elsewhere.

Flores said she’s lucky to nab a nursing position at Community Hospital, but, after training, the work is on-call, barely part-time and without benefits and vacation time. She is happy the training, in which she’ll shadow a seasoned nurse, involves six months of full-time pay.

If not for having a family, Flores said she and her husband already would have moved on.

“We’ve lived on one income while I was in school, and now they say we’ll just have to wait,” she said. “You can only go on so long. If we didn’t have kids, we’d be long gone.”

SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

Cindy Thomas, associate professor at Mesa State College with a doctorate in nursing, said she can see the concerns from both sides: New graduates need work, and companies are trying to rein in costs.

On one hand, it’s difficult for hospitals and clinics eyeing the bottom line to justify hiring new graduates who require about six months of training. Hiring experienced nurses requires only a portion of that training.

However, nurses who are jumping back into the field — for reasons such as earning more money for retirement, riding out the recession, or offsetting the loss of work by a spouse — can just as easily jump back out.

“She’s not going to stay,” Thomas said describing that demographic of nurses. “As soon as the economy gets better, those nurses are going to leave again. It’s a short-sighted strategy.”

As a testament to the downturn in hiring, Thomas said she no longer solicits input from students about where they’ll be working after graduation. Just last year, it was common practice as graduation neared to encourage students to air their success stories.

In contrast, Thomas said she recently counseled a nursing student who came to her in a panic, fretting about not being able to find work and staring down a $50,000 student loan.

When Thomas began teaching at Mess State a decade ago, the nursing program accepted 20 students a semester. Now that number has doubled. Applications still are rolling in at a healthy rate. Usually, she said, twice as many apply as are accepted.

“I do believe this is temporary,” Thomas said of the shift away from hiring grads. “I don’t think the public has any idea that is going on right now. It’s a breaking story. We thought we were insulated here, but we’re not any longer.”

Chief Nursing Officer Beth Bricker at Community Hospital said she absolutely has noticed a trend of experienced nurses returning to the workforce and nurses already in the field keeping their positions longer.

Bricker said it’s important for organizations to hire new nursing grads because they can bring new ideas and vigor, and those nurses tend to stick around for years while they build a foundation.

She said she recently hired three to four nursing graduates who will start work after passing their board certifications.

“All those baby boomers are going to retire at some time,” Bricker said. “This is just a little blip on the radar screen. I sure hope this doesn’t slow people from going to nursing school.”

Just before graduation in May, recruiter Mark Prettyman will talk with some of the nursing students. Prettyman, who has a contract with California to fill 700 nursing jobs, will tell them jobs are available mostly in the metro areas. According to his company, UMS Health, a million nurses will be needed in the nation by 2010, and 75 percent of vacancies in the health-care field are nursing positions.

Even during national nursing shortages, nurses who have specialized training are sought the most, Prettyman said.

“If your speciality is bone-marrow transplant, I could get you a job like that,” he said.

Registered nursing positions in larger U.S. cities pay from $50,000 to $200,000. He suggested graduating nurses seek work elsewhere and return to the area.

“It’s probably the only career that’s recession-proof,” he said. “If it’s truly what you want to do for a living, why not work somewhere else and come back in five years?”

WAITING VS. WORKING GAME

Jeana Vargas, who graduates in May with a bachelor of science degree in nursing, wishes it were that easy.

A native of the area, she likes it here and wants to stick around to be near family.

Vargas, 22, had been putting in internship work in exchange for school credit at St. Mary’s Hospital in the labor and delivery ward. It’s a place she’d love to work after graduation. In years past, an internship at a hospital or a clinic was a kind of get-your-foot-in-the-door exposure that nearly guaranteed students a job after graduation. But that was before the recession.

“People are really surprised when I tell them I don’t have a job,” Vargas said. “They thought I would by now.”

Vargas said she’ll work on passing her board exam, a next step toward certification that is recommended within three months of graduation.

But if July rolls around without any local job prospects, Vargas said she’ll consider moving elsewhere.

Chief Nursing Officer Lori Henderson of Family Health West said the hospital is hiring nurses in anticipation of it opening. Available jobs are in the operating room in pre-surgery and post-surgery roles.

“We do prefer experience, but we don’t rule out new grads automatically,” she said.
Henderson said while jobs in acute care or high-activity, short-term settings are sometimes preferred, jobs in longer-care positions are in high demand in the Grand Valley.

“If I was a nurse, I wouldn’t discount those other opportunities,” she advised.

Thomas echoes that advice. While she understands graduates’ need to find immediate work, she recommends students try securing work in nursing fields, even if it means adjusting expectations. That could mean not being picky or possibly relocating, even out of state.

“I personally haven’t seen anything this dramatic,” Thomas said of the abrupt changes in nursing openings. “My heart bleeds for them. I know how hard they’ve worked.”


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