The job outlook for nurses is much brighter than for most other professions, mostly as a result of changes in the structure of health care delivery. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment prospects for registered nurses will improve 26% between 2010 and 2020. As of 2010, there were about 2,700,000 jobs in this field, and another 700,000 jobs are expected to open up in the next decade.
Reasons for Job Growth
As health care becomes more technologically based, treatments are available for a wider range of illnesses. Also, the variety of diagnostic tests is increasing, and each of those technological environments requires trained nursing staff.
As the baby boom generation ages, they will consume an increasing amount of health care and supportive services.
In the changing health care economy, there is pressure on insurers and providers to keep costs down. One method of cost-cutting is to place greater emphasis on preventive care. These routine interactions with healthy patients, which include a strong component of education, call upon nursing staff to become health educators as well as providers.
As the health care system adapts to a changing political and economic landscape, the role of nurses is evolving as well. One method of reducing health care costs centers on giving nurses greater prominence on the healthcare team. Although advanced training and specialization cause nurses’ salaries to increase, the ability to use less of the physicians’ expensive time will lower overall health care costs.
Also, insurers continue to pressure providers to discharge patients from hospitals as early as possible. This causes a greater need for nurses in long-term care and rehabilitation facilities, and as part-time providers for in-home care settings.
Nursing Education Levels and Job Outlook
Employers tend to prefer nurses with bachelor’s degrees, and the number of opportunities will increase with the level of nursing education. Based on a recent survey of 501 schools of nursing, 39% of hospitals and other health care settings are requiring new nurses to come in with a bachelor’s degree. Seventy-seven percent of employers expressed a strong preference for registered nurses with BSN degrees. In 2010 the Institute of Medicine’s report on the future of nursing recommended that 80% of nurses overall should have a bachelor’s degree. While this percentage is only advisory, the recommendation has come about because evidence shows patient outcomes improve when care is given by a registered nurse with a baccalaureate.
Additionally, as institutions seek to decrease the number of physician hours, there will be a greater demand for nurses who hold advanced degrees. The four types of advance practice open to registered nurses are: nurse-anesthetists, nurse-midwives, nurse-practitioners, and clinical nurse-specialists.
Licensed Vocational and Practical Nurses
Job opportunities in this field are expected to grow by 22% between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The main source of this increase will be the greater number of opportunities in in-home care, rehab, and long-term care facilities.
Challenges for Nursing School Graduates
While the field of nursing is generally expanding, it is also paradoxically true that recent graduates of nursing programs are sometimes finding it difficult to enter the job market. Many larger economic forces come into play here; older nurses with more experience are feeling financially pressed to continue working longer before retiring. Also, nursing schools are producing record numbers of graduates as students flock to a profession with a promising future.
According to a study by the National Student Nurses Association, 36% of 2011 nursing school graduates had not been able to find employment in their field three months after graduating. A followup survey found that half of that group had still not been able to find work as of April 2012.
The current advice offered to nursing school graduates is to expand their criteria while seeking that first job. If new graduates are open to working outside the major urban areas, and if they are willing to accept less-than-ideal work shifts, they will be likelier to find the door open for them to enter their chosen profession.