In spite of fewer openings for new nurses at hospitals -- a result of the economic recession -- there is still a nursing shortage, according to Deloras Jones, RN, MS, executive director of the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care (CINHC).

About half of all nurses work in hospitals, so a slow down in admissions is just one factor in the job market for registered nurses (RNs), said Jones. There is still a 7% hospital vacancy rate, but positions are being filled by experienced nurses back in the market due to hard economic times.

Jones said that 90% of RN's under the age of 55 are working, so the market for new grads is tighter than usual.

The average age of an RN in California is over 47, so as they approach retirement, the statewide shortage will worsen. CINHC projects California will have a shortfall of 108,000 nurses by 2020.

New graduates may not get their first choice of a job or location, but there are still openings, said Jones. Opportunities are growing in ambulatory and non-acute settings as care shifts away from hospitals.

She warns that a false sense of security would be disastrous: The last time nursing school enrollment contracted in response to new grad hiring trends , it took 10 years to recover. Not until 2004 did California graduate the same number of nurses that graduated in 1994.

According to CINHC, a faculty shortage is the state's greatest bottleneck to expanding educational capacity. In partnership with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and other organizations, CINHC works to increase nursing school capacity by increasing the availability of clinical faculty. CINHC provides training for clinical faculty through grants from the Employment Development Department, Moore Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente..

There are people who want to teach, but there are not enough slots, plus faculty salaries need to be competitive with those of working clinical nurses, said Jones.

The good news is that educational capacity for RNs statewide has increased 55% since 2004, bringing younger nurses - including more men -- into the workforce.

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