Prospects for New Nurses: Thoughts on Graduating during a Downturn

By Christine Moffa, MS, RN, AJN clinical editor

Miami Beach & Port of Miami just after dawn / joiseyshowaa, via Flickr

Impending graduation is usually a happy, exciting time, especially for those who, after putting in years of hard work,  are finally about to get that college degree. In the mid-1990s I was in what I considered to be a pretty tough nursing program. For example, during my second semester of core classes we went from 30 students to 19; the drop-off was due to students failing out. Graduation couldn’t come fast enough.

However, when you find out that people who graduated one and two semesters before you are still looking for work, it can be a real buzz kill. That’s how it was for me in May 1995. During that time several hospitals were going through restructuring or reengineering (as this AJN article reported) and were replacing RNs with UAPs. It was next to impossible for a nurse without at least a year of recent experience to find a job in a hospital. Now, as a result of the recession, new graduates are  facing a similar situation. It took me almost a year to get my first job—and this was not without some sacrifices:  I had to relocate from New York to Miami and work the 12-hour night shift.

It ended up being worthwhile, but it was one of the hardest years of my life and potentially could have turned me off of nursing forever. Has anyone else out there had a similar experience? What advice would you give to nurses graduating this year?

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. jm May 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Here’s AJN’s follow-up post, published in May 2012. Please visit it and leave a comment to tell us how you’re doing with the job search, or offer advice.

  2. Kirk May 16, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Hows it going today in 2012?

  3. Ellen June 27, 2010 at 11:19 am

    We are having the same problem in West Michigan. Certainly the recession is a major factor, but the lack of nursing leaders willing to demand that hospital administrators provide optimal staffing levels,is the primary problem. Only when nurses are able to provide the level of care that they have been educated to give, will retention improve. This would only be feasible with lower nurse:patient ratios. It seems that when most nurses achieve top positions in large hospitals, the staff nurse and the true quality of patient care is forgotten. The main deficit is in the level of courage of our nursing leaders and the short-sighted legislators that fail to pass meaningful health care reform.

  4. Traci May 31, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    This is a sad situation. At my local university many of those who just graduated do not have jobs. The difference between this downturn and previous year’s downturns are that there are 50% more new grads entering the market than previous years. I live in the bay area and there are about 10 programs that I can drive from my home to that are less than an hour away.This includes universities, community colleges and private schools. Hope it get’s better for new grads.

  5. Maria May 21, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    I must also respond, that most nurse managers are reluctant or unable to hire RNs as Nurse Assistants or Techs, or even clerks, for the following reasons (at least in the Bay Area). First, they know that once an RN job becomes available in that hospital, you will probably leave at the first opportunity. Many hospitals around here are union, which I do support, and are almost if not required, to hire you if you are an internal applicant. Second, sometimes the unions for the CNAs and other support staff, actually have bargained specifically so that RNs are not allowed to take their jobs – whether it be LPN, CNA, clerk, or what-have-you. So this becomes another obstacle to getting one’s foot in the door, at least around here.

    That being said, in the spirit of trying to say something positive as well I would like to share the following: a wise person once asserted that if you sit around and list all the reasons you will not be wanted for a position of employment, even if they are somewhat valid reasons, not only will you needlessly beat yourself down, but it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one has everything they need to be the perfect candidate, and many are far from it, because we are fallible human beings. We must keep the knowledge that we CAN do this! Someone will look at us and say, for whatever reason, that they want us. It will happen!

  6. Maria May 21, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    I cannot tell you how grateful I am to hear what you have to say on this subject. I find that many nurses who think they are providing advice, really don’t know the extent of how tough it is right now; and it’s even worse when you have friends and relatives who expect you to get a job and contribute to your own livelihood, as well as that of your husband, and all they hear is that “there’s a huge nursing shortage.” People are amazed when you tell them you can’t find a job. And then some people start telling you how crazy you would be to leave your husband for a while to try to find work, at least to get experience. What choice do I have? I’m 60K in debt from nursing school.

    Even “Transition to Practice Programs,” which have been developed here in the Bay Area, as kind of post-grad preceptorships, for new nurses having trouble getting jobs, are impacted and cannot nearly accommodate everyone who needs to find a way to maintain their skills while the job market improves.

    I won’t give up; but I’m definitely discouraged. It has been a year since I graduated. I have followed all of the advice in the book – I’m volunteering, I’m looking for a job in a SNF, I network everywhere possible, I go to hospitals and shake hands with nurse managers, I follow up, I’m persistent with hiring managers to no avail. I’m desperate for some good advice regarding my circumstances and I’m not really sure where to turn. Please, AJN, continue to address this topic. I’d love some really good advice that doesn’t include going back to school, when I’m already 60K in debt and just barely able to pay the bills. Should I consider relocating, even though I’m married and my husband has a job here in the Bay Area? Or are there are things I can be doing in order to stay near my husband?

  7. A May 21, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I just graduated in March and am really worried about getting a job. Thankfully I will be able to stay at my current job as a RN- I worked there as a LPN for almost a year. Times are tough and even if you have connections that doesn’t necessarily help in this economy…. What keeps me going is prayer- I know that God is able to facilitate anything and that I will get what is meant for me.

  8. Catherine May 21, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I just graduated with BSN a couple weeks ago, and my nursing class was forewarned about the difficulty finding jobs right now. I live in metro Detroit, and with over five major healthcare systems in this area, jobs for new graduates are scarce. It costs a lot of money to train nurses, especially new grads. Many employers want experienced nurses. The best piece of advice given to me was to stay with same healthcare system/unit floor I worked with as a student nurse. Even that prospect, however, seems to be circling the drain for the same reason I hear over and over again: EXPERIENCE REQUIRED!!! Relocation may not be an option for some people. With all this healthcare “restructuring,” it seems that we are getting hit the hardest. It’s a real shame that this is what has come of this field. I’m sure I will eventually get a job, but it’s the uncertainty of my future that frustrates me. It’s quite aggravating to have worked so hard in school only to be disappointed in the end. This is really a wonderful article. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been asked already if I have a job yet. And I’m forced to inform these inquisitors about the issue at hand. I feel that this subject matter is underreported and it’s our duty as new grads to inform the public.

  9. C DiRie May 21, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Wow, reading the AJN article brought back many feelings of fear, frustration and tears. I remember those days most unfondly. I had been an ICU nurse for six years and graduated with my BSN in 1995. My BSN opened my eyes to all that was happening in healthcare. That is when I became an ANA member! Regarding obtaining employment during rough economic times, I would recomend the following: 1) become a patient care tech somewhere in the hospital where you want to work. It is amazing what doors will open because they already know you and your strong work ethic and they don’t have to spend as much time with you in orientation because you are acclimated to the environment and to the computer system. 2) Continue to obtain your education! We need more highly trained nurses everywhere nurses are working because we need to raise up a new generation of nurse leaders! 3) Have faith. I always believe that God opens doors for me where He wants me to go so that I can make an impact for Him.

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