Some new nurse grads struggle to find jobs

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Five years ago Sandra Villarreal decided to pursue nursing as a second career after more than a decade in health administration.

In June she graduated from Cal State LA with her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Villarreal has applied for at least a dozen nursing jobs but so far she’s had no luck.

"When I go out to open houses or job fairs I do my networking and meet other new grads and I find people that have actually been looking for a job for about a year now and so it's a little discouraging," she said.

The newly minted registered nurse is not alone, said Wendy Sutherland, a recruitment manager for Kaiser Permanente.

"We have a lot of applicants for every position, it’s probably double to tripled what we've seen," she said.

Sutherland says that in the past couple of years Kaiser has only hired half or two-thirds the number of new nurses it hired in previous years.

The days of showering nursing grads with job invitations and signing bonuses are over.

David Auerbach, who studies nursing trends for the Rand Corporation said there are two main forces behind the change.

First, the Great Recession forced many older nurses to delay retirement. A recent RAND study found twice as many nurses are still working at 69 than they were two decades ago.

Second, nursing schools have been turning out more graduates in anticipation of a predicted nursing shortage. The push began around the turn of the century. Local and state agencies, non-profits and even corporations like Johnson and Johnson got on the bandwagon campaigning for more people to go into the field. Colleges also answered the call and expanded or reinstated nursing programs.

It worked, Sutherland said.

"Unfortunately without a lot of people leaving or retiring it has created not enough openings for as many graduates that we have coming out," she said. "And so what we are seeing is in essence is like a bubble."

Experts say the nursing shortage is real in rural areas and in some medical specialties. And when the older nurses do begin to retire, there will be a greater need for RNs in urban areas as well. 

Even in urban areas, most new nurses are eventually finding work. The National Student Nurses Association says about a quarter of new nurses are still unemployed four months after graduation and 13 percent are jobless at the six month mark.

It took nurse Haley Clymer six months to land a job at Kaiser's Fontana Hospital last summer.

"As a new grad you have to be open to going a little bit further," she said, noting that she commutes an hour and twenty minutes each way from her home in Oceanside to work and back again. "You kind of have to go where the job is."

Nurse Lou Leyva works with Clymer in Fontana. She looked for nine months before landing her job there last summer.

"When I graduated I very naively thought that I was going to find a job right away," she said.

Leyva graduated with honors, is bilingual, and as a second career nurse she had life experience.

"So, I thought, I'm a catch, it should be easy, no problem," she said. "And it was very difficult. I applied so many places and I never received any calls."

When Kaiser finally called, "I cried, I was so happy," said Leyva.

Sandra Villarreal, who graduated from Cal State LA in June, is still waiting for that call.

"I’ve never thought why did I change careers," she said. "Nursing is definitely what I was put on this earth to do...and I know I’ll get a job eventually."

In the meantime, Villarreal has a temp job lined up for the fall working in Kaiser flu clinics. She says it will help pay the bills and give her more time to look for a permanent job.