Is nursing still a stable field to seek employment?
Do nurses feel that they will be able to secure a job following university studies?
Over the last 5 years we have certainly seen a swing in Australia where the nursing profession has gone from what was formerly a secure, stable job option with almost guaranteed job prospects, to one where new graduates have often struggled to secure work.
Headlines in 2012 such as “Nursing Shortage Crisis Looming” predicted that “Australia faces the risk of an alarming shortage of qualified nurses by 2025.”There were calls for the federal government to find solutions to the growing demand for nurses by investing in training for new nurses, and promises from the Health Minister to provide additional training and support to cover the shortfall.
In fact, a study by Health Workforce Australia in 2012 predicted that:
..the figures indicate that nursing graduates need to be boosted by between 85 and 158 per cent – or 8000 to 14,700 newly qualified professionals – to increase self-sufficiency and meet future demand.
Fast forward to only 2 years later, and the Nursing Shortage headlines have now been replaced with “Nursing graduates finding it hard to land a job after uni” and “Graduate nurse placement shortage.”
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) agrees, declaring “Thousands of recently graduated Australian nurses are finding themselves without work after they finish university”.
What has gone wrong and what has changed so dramatically that has caused such a shift in conditions?
The Nurse Union claims there are about 8,000 Australian nursing qualified graduates each year, with around 3,000 who cannot find work – A huge number, really. They place some of the blame for this shortfall on foreign workers on 457 visas taking up positions in Australia, stating:
It can’t be a coincidence that at the same time as thousands of new nurse graduates across the country are unable to get jobs, the same amount of people are getting jobs, coming in as temporary skilled migrants on 457 visas.
The Australian Private Hospital Association has rebutted these claims, stating that overseas nurses are essential for filling more highly specialised jobs:
From the private hospital perspective, 457 visas are principally used to fill vacancies that require experienced nurses with an advanced level of skill, particularly in areas like intensive care, coronary care and operating theatres.
Cuts to federal health budgets, and slashes to the Public Health Sector such as we saw recently with the Campbell Newman government have also contributed to the problem, with more than 2750 Health Care Workers losing out to the slash-and-burn technique that the Nurses Union deemed to be “a very dark day for the community of Queensland.”
So where does that leave the future of the Nursing Profession in Australia? Certainly both Unions and employers agree that the demand for nurses will grow as the Australian population ages.
Michael Roff from the Private Hospitals Association believes that this “bottleneck” of Nursing jobs is temporary,
I think what we have at the moment is a short-term bottleneck, which has resulted because there has been a lack of collaboration between governments and universities about the number of nursing applicants that are accepted.
I think there is an issue in the short term, but if we look a couple of years down the track we are going to need all of those graduates.
So the unanswered question remains – do we want to encourage the future training and support of Registered Nurses, ensuring good coverage of staff across the private and public sectors as older nurses leave the profession?
Are we setting ourselves up for problems in 5 years time, with the shortage of graduate and other positions causing people to rethink their study and job options, and reducing applicants in nursing study programs?