Help Wanted – New Nursing Graduates Are Snapped Up Quickly By Western Mass. Employers

If there’s one positive to the region’s prolonged nursing crunch, it’s that the word has gotten out — and area college programs reflect that.Enrollment is up and graduating classes are larger, at some schools dramatically so, as career seekers worried about the overall economy are looking to nursing as a sure thing for employment. For the moment, they’re right.


“It comes as no surprise that all our students already have jobs; it’s not an unusual thing,” said Anne Glanovsky, director of Nursing at American International College in Springfield, which graduated 22 nurses this year.

ther schools report similar success from their students, such as Holyoke Community College, which saw all 50 of its nursing graduates find jobs by March, said Beth Fiscella, director of Nursing. “It was our highest graduating class in several years, maybe a couple of decades,” she said. “And they were heavily recruited on campus by area facilities.”

Still, though jobs might be plentiful right now, nursing administrators said, they’re not easy jobs, as it will take perhaps a decade for the increased enrollment at nursing schools to beat back the exodus of older nurses from the profession — meaning that today’s new nurses are entering a workplace stressed by understaffing, not to mention financial concerns stemming from the state budget.

But the trend of educating and graduating increasing numbers of nurses is definitely a positive one, they said — as the class of 2003 demonstrates.
Surge of Interest

The recent rising enrollment trend in nursing programs can no longer be considered an odd spike; Pioneer Valley colleges are reporting their healthiest enrollment figures in years, due in part to the correct perception that jobs are plentiful.

“Everyone who wants a job has a job, and that’s what seems to be driving a lot of people,” said Marjorie Childers, interim director of Nursing at Elms College in Springfield, which graduated 24 nurses into a number of job settings, from Springfield and Holyoke to Hartford and New Haven. “At this point, our graduates can pick and choose.”

“We had more than 300 applicants for 53 spots — that’s six people for each slot, so we are very popular,” Fiscella said. She acknowledged that not all of these individuals are teenagers just out of high school; in this economy, people seeking second careers with good job prospects are turning to nursing.

“Many employers who are laying off will give special incentives to retrain,” she said. “Often, if an employer doesn’t contact us directly, they’ll have the displaced employees connect with us. There’s definitely an increase in that area.”

In addition, she said, many foundations, such as Johnson & Johnson, have made successful media pushes to promote nursing and spread the word that there is a need for nurses — and solid career options for those who choose the field. Despite what’s going on in other sectors, layoffs aren’t an issue in nursing.

However, Glanovsky said, while nurses have solid job security, they should realize that they will face some tougher challenges than nurses of a decade ago, as well.

he nursing crunch certainly impacts the workload nurses are expected to maintain — “one pair of hands will be doing the work that would otherwise be done by several pairs of hands,” she said — but AIC makes sure nurses are aware of such challenges before they enter the workforce.

For instance, the college offers a course on trends and issues in the health care industry, and the effects of the nursing crunch is one of the topics covered in that program. “They are faced with this issue constantly, especially during their clinical experiences, so they know it exists,” she said.

“Some might assume nursing is easier than it is,” Childers said. “But by the time they are juniors and seniors, they know it’s not. They realize that once they’re on the floor, seeing what the working conditions are really like.”

Still Not Enough

To nurses entering the workforce and being able to name their positions, the nursing crunch certainly has an upside. But, from an industry perspective, it’s unclear how quickly the profession will return to healthy staffing levels — and concerns will only grow as the average age of Americans continues to rise and a generation of middle-aged nurses prepare to retire.

And the demographics of the graduating classes aren’t as encouraging as the sheer numbers of graduates. For example, while Springfield Technical Community College sent 41 nurses into the workforce this spring — all of them gaining jobs by March — their average age is mid- to late 30s. High school students still aren’t turning to nursing in the numbers the medical profession needs, and males still aren’t drawn to the field to any significant degree. STCC’s graduating class, for instance, contains two men — about par for the course.

Kathleen Ann Long, president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, worries that, while enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs nationwide were up 8{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in 2002-03 over the previous year, that rate needs to be accelerated even more to meet the projected demand for 1 million new and replacement nurses over the next 10 years.

On the plus side, Fiscella said, the nursing pool in Western Mass. is becoming more ethnically diverse, with traditionally underrepresented groups such as Hispanics, Russians, and African-Americans gaining ground. And even an older group entering the field provides the advantage of life experience and maturity. “This is a bright group that’s very highly motivated,” said Eileen Neville, dean of Nursing at STCC.

Yet the needs continue, with some pointing out that nursing schools themselves have exacerbated the crunch by neglecting to expand their programs. “Certain schools have to close their doors to applicants because there’s not enough faculty to meet the demand,” said Jeff Stevens, vice president of Human Resources at North Adams Regional Hospital.

In an effort to add capacity, STCC will launch an evening program in September to take in 32 more nursing students. Neville said such efforts are badly needed.
“The applications for nursing are increasing to great amounts, and I think you’re going to see this for five more years. One of the reasons we’re starting an evening program is to meet the shortage we’ll be facing in our community.”

Growing Pains

Despite the challenges of meeting the increased demand for nursing programs, college administrators are looking at the bright side.

“Right now, enrollment is looking very good, and I would actually expect it to increase in the next couple of years,” Childers said, adding that more and more hospitals are offering scholarships, loan-forgiveness programs, and other financial incentives to attract employees — “and that’s in addition to the fact that you can get a job that pays pretty well.”

“We need to keep telling young people what nursing is all about,” Neville said. “But, so far, this shortage has actually been an ad for nursing.”

In an economy that’s still struggling to awaken from its doldrums, the promise of a secure job is a powerful advertisement indeed.