What Shortage of Nurses? In California, We May Have Too Many

The number of young registered nurses entering the workforce more than doubled in the past decade. (photo: Krissy Clark/KQED)

The number of young registered nurses entering the workforce more than doubled in the past decade. (photo: Krissy Clark/KQED)

From the 1980s to the 2000s, the number of young people going into nursing schools plummeted — both nationally and in California. To reverse the trend, the government launched recruitment efforts to to spur more people to go into nursing.

It looks like they did a pretty good job. The number of registered nurses nationwide skyrocketed in the past decade, according to a study released in today’s Health Affairs. Recent grads aged 23-26 increased by 62 percent. There hasn’t been a spike in nursing grads like this in the U.S. since the 1970s.

There hasn’t been a spike in nursing graduates like this in the U.S. since the 1970s.

And it’s no different in California. Nursing school enrollments have doubled in the past decade, says Joanne Spetz, a nursing professor at UCSF and co-author of a UCSF report looking at California’s nursing forecast. The report shows that in the past five years, the number of California nursing graduates has doubled. Spetz says that’s because California also made huge efforts to recruit nursing students, like implementing accelerated degree programs.

As the Sacramento Bee reported yesterday:

California has spent at least $95 million in federal, state and private funds in the past decade to double the number of nursing graduates by expanding college programs and grants. As recently as three years ago, hospitals were offering moving expenses, housing allowances and signing bonuses to recent graduates of nursing schools.

Spetz says with the recession lingering, older nurses aren’t retiring and hospitals aren’t hiring. And that means it’s harder for nurses across the country, including California, to find jobs.

Now, there may actually be a surplus of nurses in California. But it depends on where you live.

“In the Inland Empire and in some of the  more rural areas, there is definitely a sense that there is shortage of nurses still,” Spetz said. “But in other parts of the state like the Bay Area and Sacramento I think that people are looking for work and can’t find because there’s so many nurses in those regions already.”

So should prospective nursing students find a new career path? Absolutely not, said Spetz. In the coming years, more recent graduates will be more likely to find jobs in California.

“The Baby Boomer will retire [from nursing] at the same time that they will need more health care.”

Spetz says it’s important to keep recent nursing grads engaged — through internships and other programs — so that when Baby Boomers do retire and there are more jobs available those nurses can step right into them. But in the meantime, recent grads may have a hard time finding a job.

Related