California Nursing grads face tough job market: 43 percent can’t find work, according to state survey

( New nursing graduates are finding their chosen profession is not as recession-proof as they had expected. Yet Cabrillo College and others offering training for would-be nurses are being advised not to cut back on their programs.

A survey last fall of nearly 1,500 California newly licensed registered nurses found 43 percent did not have a nursing job 18 months after graduating, according to the California Institute for Nursing and Health Care.

According to the nurses who were not working, 92 percent said they were told they did not have enough experience, 54 percent told no jobs were available and 42 percent told a bachelor’s degree was preferred or required. About 80 percent said they would be willing to participate in an unpaid internship to get experience.

The employment rate appears higher for local graduates.

About 80 percent of Cabrillo’s nursing grads found jobs in their field a year after graduation, according to a summer 2011 survey, which is the most recent available, said Rock Pfotenhauser, Cabrillo College’s dean of instruction, career education and economic development.

“It is taking longer (to find a job) than it was four years ago.” he said. “In nursing it’s more difficult for students to find jobs in hospitals, but there are more opportunities in clinics.”

Jill Gallo, coordinator of Cabrillo College’s program for nursing and allied health, said some grads are exploring transfer to a four-year university.

Older nurses are reluctant to retire after seeing their retirement accounts shrink in the downturn and the economic outlook seems uncertain. Hospitals are asking part-time staff to work more hours or opting for traveling nurses from out of the area, according to the Institute.

Both Dominican Hospital and Watsonville Community Hospital are recruiting experienced nurses.

“We continue to hire from various Cabrillo programs such as nursing, medical assistant, and radiology techs,”said Dr. Larry DeGhetaldi, president of Sutter Health’s Santa Cruz division and Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz. “Our RN (registered nurse) turnover has been very low so our RN hiring at Sutter has been low. The kinds of services offered at Sutter require at least three to four years of nursing experience.”

He added, “We have hired some RNs from Cabrillo on the PAMF side, including our own employees who had gone back to Cabrillo for their RN training.”

Pfotenhauer said the trends on California nursing supply and demand are not predictable.

A state forecast on the need for registered nurses through 2030 reported in November there appears to be a surplus, which could continue if RN graduations remain at current levels and older nurses continue to work at higher rates than in the past, but a shortage could emerge if graduations decline as potential students are discouraged by the job market.

“California will likely need to maintain the present number of nursing graduates in order to meet long-term health care needs,” the forecast concluded.

Pfotenhauer said he is closely monitoring demand with a tool that tracks job postings on the Internet.

“In the Bay region there were 3,908 RN degrees completed in 2010 and 9,480 job postings for RNs,” he said. “This would seem to indicate a shortage. The number of job postings increased in 2011 to 13,820, so we feel the numbers are moving in a direction that favors our graduates.”