The field of health care is shifting, and with it the role of the 35,000 RNs actively working in Mississippi. And while in the present economy new RNs may have a tougher time than in the past landing that first job, there is still a shortage of nurses in the state.
Although a formal survey has not been done, a recent discussion among all deans and directors of schools of nursing in Mississippi regarding new graduate employment revealed that most graduates obtain full-time employment within six to nine months of graduation, said Kim W. Hoover, PhD, RN, dean of the School of Nursing at University of Mississippi Medical Center and former chair of the Mississippi Council of Deans and Directors of Schools of Nursing.
The group acknowledged that the job market has changed over the past couple of years and therefore, new graduates might not get their first job preference. In Mississippi, as in other states, demand differs by region. The northwest and Delta continue to be areas where it is more difficult to recruit and retain nurses.
“Some graduates receive multiple offers while others may need to go to other areas of the state to work,” Hoover said. “Deans and directors reported that graduates are not having to leave the state to find employment.”
Wanda M. Jones, MS, RN, executive director, Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce, said the statewide hospital RN vacancy rate has actually gone up from 4.3 percent a year ago to 4.8 percent today. That compares to a RN vacancy rate in the state of almost 10 percent in 2006-07.
“With strong partnerships between Mississippi hospitals and schools of nursing, our educational institutions have been able to increase the number of RN graduates over the past few years,” Jones said.
Jones said since the recession, some experienced nurses delayed retirement, came back into the workforce, or increased their number of hours due to the economic downturn. And some nurses transferred from community settings into acute care where salaries are typically higher.
The use of robotic surgery has cut down on the number of days patients must be in the hospital. But Jones said the use of robotics and other technology, and the increase in outpatient diagnostics, procedures and surgeries actually increase the demand for nurses.
While new graduates may not be able to get a job with the employer, area, shift or field of practice that is their first choice, Jones said there are RN jobs available in hospitals, long-term care, home health/hospice and other outpatient/community settings. Most hospital vacancies for new graduates are in general medical/surgical areas, and may be night shifts.
“New graduates should be open to accepting jobs offered in areas that may not have been their first choice,” Jones said. “They can always let the employer know of areas they would be interested in trying when openings occur. New graduates should look at the job search process as a positive experience and realize that they will have many opportunities for learning and perfecting skills in any new job. New nursing graduates should ask the potential employer if they have a residency/ internship program or extended orientation to facilitate the new nurse’s transition to the workplace.”
Marcella McKay, PhD, RN, vice president for nursing and professional affairs with the Mississippi Hospital Association, said while there have been a few layoffs of nurses within Mississippi hospitals over the past few years, these were not frequent and did not involve large numbers of employees.
“Hospitals in Mississippi employ approximately 60,000 employees, and from time to time they open or close specific services and employees’ jobs may be impacted,” McKay said. “A great deal of care is taken to minimize negative consequences for employees, but sometimes job loss is unavoidable. Nurses are frequently able to avoid layoffs by moving to new roles through re-education or re-tooling job skills for new competencies.”
McKay said the long-term job outlook for RNs is very positive. Like the total U.S. population, nurses are aging with an estimated 31 percent of actively licensed nurses 50 years old or older. “It is important to continue to educate nurses across the state to fill positions vacated when nurses retire,” McKay said.
Amy B. Williams, MSN, RN, director of nursing and professional recruitment, University of Mississippi Health Care (UMHC), said good nurses continue to be in demand. UMHC offers a nurse residency program for all new graduate hires.
“It is a program where they are actually given an opportunity to work at the bedside and also in classroom settings where they focus on research, which is one of our three missions,” Williams said. “The nurse residency program is an investment in our graduate nurses and is of benefit to our patients. We do like to hire both new and experienced nurses. We are always looking for nurses experienced in taking care of highly acute patients, but we are also capable of taking novice nurses and working with them until they become experts themselves. The combination of experienced, seasoned nurses combined with the excitement about nursing that new nurses bring in is a good mix for our patients.”
In addition to looking for RNs to work in all their specialty areas, Williams said they are also seeking Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs) in some of their specialty areas.
There is a physician shortage across the nation, especially in primary care. This shortage has increased demand for APNs to work with physicians to extend their services and create additional access to care, said Memorial Hospital at Gulfport chief nursing executive Jennifer Dumal, RN, BSN, MPH.
Dumal said while nurses remaining in or returning to the workforce because of the downturn in the economy has made it more difficult in some areas for new nurse graduates to find a job, she can only see the demand for nurses growing in the future.
“Registered nurses play a critical role in health care delivery, and with an aging population, health care demand is growing,” Dumal said.
Nurses of all levels of experience can benefit from being involved with the Mississippi Nurses’ Association (MNA), said MNA executive director Teresa Malone. In addition to providing networking opportunities, leadership and support to state nurses, MNA also advocate improved healthcare of Mississippians.
“MNA’s advocacy efforts led to the creation of the Office of Nursing Workforce and created expanded opportunities for nurse practitioners,” Malone said. “MNA is also a strong advocate for improving the health of Mississippians and was instrumental in supporting the development of Smokefree Air Mississippi and passage of Silver Alert, a system to notify officials and the public when an elderly person or someone with dementia or other cognitive impairment goes missing. MNA is here to support nurses throughout their professional career, providing access to quality continuing education programs and serving as a resource and innovator to continue to move nursing forward in Mississippi.”
MNA may be reached at 601-898-0670. The organization’s annual convention scheduled Oct. 16-19 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum is expected to draw about 1,200 nurses.
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