New nursing grads cost more to hire, may struggle to find jobs

( Nursing students may find difficulty securing jobs with acute-care hospitals in Nevada after graduating, as the latest Nevada Health Care Quality Report (NHQR) from the UNLV Center for Health Information Analysis indicate financial losses as much as $65 million last year.

Carolyn Yucha, dean of nursing and allied health sciences at UNLV, said new nursing graduates cost more to hire than experienced nurses because they take longer to be oriented, thus affecting their likelihood of securing jobs after they obtain their degrees.

“Lack of profits for hospitals is not good for new graduates,” Yucha said. “Sometimes when there are budget cuts, it involves laying nurses off, and of course if they’re laying [nurses] off they’re not going to hire new graduates.”

Cheryl Perna, a lecturer and undergraduate coordinator for the UNLV School of Nursing, also finds nursing experience to be advantageous to employment.

“What I’ve found over the years is that once a nurse has experience it’s much easier to secure a job and one that is in your desired area of nursing and the hours you want to work,” Perna said.

But nursing students getting the experience they need to be competitive can be challenging.

The Dedicated Education Unit, in conjunction with UNLV and Summerlin Hospital, offers nursing students the opportunity to learn directly from nurses and get first-hand experience with patient care, though space is limited.

At the start of the spring semester, 26 students were selected at random to participate in the program that has two students assigned to one nurse. One of only 19 in the nation and the first in Nevada, UNLV is the only participating institution in the state.

Yucha hopes the project will expand by the Fall 2012 semester.

Another program offered to nursing students in Nevada requires that 8 be assigned to every one nurse, and is said to not be ideal because the nurses’ attention is spread quite thin, affecting the learning environment.

Yucha said even if hospitals don’t have to lay off staff during budget cuts, they still don’t hire a great number of new graduates.

“When hospitals lose money they reduce hiring,” Yucha said.

But Perna said though hospitals across the United States face budget issues during good and bad economic times, it doesn’t always affect hiring practices.

“These financial challenges clearly impact on nurses and especially new graduates looking to find employment,” Perna said. “But … I’ve had students offered positions before they graduate.”

According to the NHQR, Clark County, with 13 acute-care hospitals, finished 2011 with a combined net income of $8.6 million. Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center had the highest net income with $26.4 million.

But individual acute-care hospitals in the region, such as Valley Hospital Medical Center, saw losses upwards of $22 million.

With 15 acute-care hospitals, rural Nevada had the most substantial net income totaling $61 million.

Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital in Elko saw its net income reach $36 million by the end of 2011, while Mesa View Regional Hospital in Mesquite had losses totaling $3.3 million.

With the fewest acute-care hospitals at six, Washoe/Carson City County’s health care institutions had the biggest total financial loss in Nevada — $55 million.

Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno had the largest individual loss in Washoe/Carson City County — and all of Nevada — at $65 million. Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare in Carson City had a relatively moderate net income of $8.8 million.

The NHQR for 2011 states the number of full-time registered nurses (RN’s) who were acute-care hospital personnel in Clark County decreased by nearly 7 percent. Contracted RN personnel decreased by almost 17 percent.

Rural Nevada saw an increase in full-time acute-care hospital RN’s across the board in 2011. For hospital personnel, there was a gain of approximately 5 percent, while contracted personnel saw a 50 percent jump.

Despite Washoe/Carson City County’s financial woes, acute-care hospitals in the area gained full-time RN personnel, increasing less than 1 percent, though these hires were miniscule in comparison to the loss of contracted RN’s — an approximately 92 percent decrease.

Though there has been some difficulty for recent graduates to find nursing positions, Perna said few leave the state for employment purposes. She said it has taken anywhere from three to four months post graduation for some of her students to get hired.

Perna often offers advice to those studying nursing, providing her own experience as a way to ease their frustration in starting their careers after graduation.

“I’ve been there to answer questions and provide guidance with resumes, interviews and letters of recommendations,” she said, “and of course a little validation that this is a tough economy to find a desired position quickly.”

“I graduated at a time when there were many cuts and nurses were being laid off. It took me eight months to find a job working in an area I had little interest and hours that were awful,” she said.

But Perna is fond of the field.

“Nursing is an amazing profession, she said. “As a nurse for 17 years, what I think and worry about the most is how can I be a better nurse and improve the care to my patients. Everything else is easy to figure out.”

The total operating revenue of all acute-care hospitals in Nevada — including both inpatient and outpatient billing — was $4.2 billion last year, including $2.8 billion for Clark County, $1.1 billion for Washoe/Carson City County, and $300 million for rural Nevada.