Mass. hospital survey shows nurse jobs being left unfilled

(EnterpriseNews.com) If there is a shortage of nursing jobs out there, Heather Coelho doesn’t see it.

“I don’t know of a nurse in the unemployment line,” said Coelho, a registered nurse from Taunton.

But a recent survey by the Massachusetts Hospital Association says that registered nursing jobs being left unfilled – whether resulting from retirements, attrition or staffing cuts – have increased since last year. The survey, done in December 2011 and released this month, says:

The vacancy rate for registered nurses at 76 Massachusetts hospitals was 3.9 percent – up from 3 percent in 2010.

Specialty hospitals, which offer rehab and long-term care, had a 5.1 percent vacancy rate – up from 3.6 percent in 2010.

Registered nurse vacancy rates were highest in pediatric critical care units, home health and emergency departments.

The lowest vacancy rates were post-partum nursery units, rehabilitation services and skilled nursing services.

“The belief a lot of researchers have is economic conditions and nurse vacancy rates are closely related,” said David Smith, senior director of health data analysis and policy for the Massachusetts Hospital Association.

Nurses, he said, move in and out of the workforce depending on family situations and the economy. Most nurses are still women, despite a rise of men entering the field

When the economy is in decline, RN vacancies drop as nurses hold onto jobs. When the economy improves, vacancies rise as nurses feel more comfortable staying home with young children or if older, retiring from the job.

In a related trend, fewer nurses with graduate degrees are seeking teaching jobs, instead working at higher-paying jobs at hospitals. That can result in a faculty shortage at nursing schools, which then may have to turn student applicants away.

Anne McNeil, dean of nursing and allied health at Massasoit Community College, said while the program is currently well-staffed, half her faculty is approaching retirement within five years.

“We’re going to lose a lot of nurses with tremendous experience to mentor younger nurses,” she said.

Sue Taylor, dean of nursing at the Brockton Hospital Nursing School, said recent graduates face challenges finding jobs if they want to stay in the Boston area. Few hospitals, she said, want to hire recent graduates.

The school holds job fairs that have expanded to include out-of-state opportunities. “A number of students are interested in relocating,” she said.

Kim Walsh, chief nursing officer at Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital, said the problem may be hospitals being more selective in hiring.

Her advice to new RNs with two-year associate degrees is to find a job in long-term care and get their bachelor’s degree.

Nursing schools often have affiliations with four-year colleges so students can receive their bachelor of science in nursing. Massasoit, for example, has affiliations with several colleges, including Northeastern University and Curry College.

But, David Schildmeier, director of public communications at the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said nurse vacancy rates are created by cutting budgets and staff.

“There’s no shortage of nurses; there’s a glut of nurses,” Schildmeier. “There are thousands of nurses that can’t find work.”

And with the aging of the 70 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, demand will grow for nurses skilled in health care for the elderly.

“There’s a population bulge at the end-of-life spectrum,” said Taylor.

She said geriatrics is addressed more in Brockton Hospital Nursing School’s curriculum to prepare students to meet this need. Students have a clinical rotation in two nursing-rehab facilities: St. Joseph Manor and West Acres.

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