Health Workforce Australia predicts that by 2025 there will be a shortage of 109,000 nurses in Australia.
Interestingly though, a nursing shortfall doesn’t automatically translate into new positions created. In fact, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has reported an estimated 3,000 nursing graduates as unable to find work.
So with the number of graduates completing their studies increasing by more than 3000 per year since 2001, there are thousands of students heading back to campus this month that face a grim reality: a university degree does not equal a nursing job.
The link between unemployed graduates and nursing demand is notoriously fraught, with cause and effect often difficult to separate. A look at detailed data by the Nursing Workforce Sustainability report however reveals some clear messages:
- There are currently insufficient employment opportunities for newly graduating nurses.
- In the future a significant shortfall in nurses will emerge due to an ageing workforce, poor retention rates and population health trends.
- Some areas of nursing are particularly at risk in terms of supply, including aged care and mental health.
Even in the age of information, there is evidence that students, hospitals, governments or even nurses themselves aren’t learning these messages.
What we need to consider as members of the health industry, specifically as nurses:
Understanding the issue of retention in the industry.
The nursing and midwifery workforce is ageing. Almost 53% of nurses are aged over 45 years and 23% are over 55. As these highly experienced individuals start transitioning towards retirement, we need to be creating opportunities for nurse graduates to work and learn side by side with them and in time, replace them.
These statistics, when coupled with the facts below, demonstrate the significant loss following the investment in nurse training and productivity across the industry as a whole.
Here are some stats on retention:
- Around 6% of nurses leave the profession each year
- The attrition rate for nursing students in their first year of study is 27%. This is 7% higher than any other industry
So what is the solution?
- We need to create a workplace environment that meets local needs but we also need to be implementing more flexible employment arrangements, organisational structures and management approaches that support flexibility and incentivise positive change for nurses. As we all know, shift work is strenuous, so there needs to be coordinated action to change the way that rosters are allocated to make for a longer working life.
- We need to mentor young nurses. The old saying, ‘nurses eat their young’ is echoed through university halls and the solution is two-fold. For nursing students, take the humble approach. There’s nothing more loathsome than a know-it-all brand new recruit who refuses to listen and argues with every correction or redirection. Every preceptor is different and will require a slightly altered version of their routine. Go with it. Learn as much as you can; absorb it all like a little sponge without complaining. Even if you have previous nursing experience, let them teach you without contradicting or fighting their advice. While for experienced nurses- yes, achieving perfection is practically essential in a medical occupation, but you need to remember to make nursing students feel valued through encouraging feedback.
- The third solution may arguably have the biggest effect on retention: wages. An Australian Nursing Federation online survey found that 100 per cent of nurses said they believed governments undervalue the role of nurses in Australia.
Understanding the context of the industry for today’s graduates:
The nursing workforce shortages that have been projected are directly contrasted with the current nursing workforce context, with a significant proportion of recent nursing graduates claiming they are unable to secure suitable employment.
And it is certainly not through lack of qualification. As one 26 year old nurse who chose to remain anonymous reflects:
“During all my clinical placements while at university I received great feedback on my abilities from nurses, patients and doctors. For four whole years I was constantly told what a great nurse I was going to be, and regularly told to apply for graduate work at my placements. I passed every one of my CPAs (Clinical Practice Assessments) with a 100% mark and spent four years of my degree working part time in a hospital. Simply, there are no jobs.”
So what is the solution?
Some say that having ‘no specialty’ will prevent graduate nurses from landing work. Workforce data reveals that even for those who have been working in the industry for years, there are few who consider themselves ‘generalists’. Most tend to certify in a specific area of specialisation, but because new graduates don’t have a specialty by the time they’re leaving nursing school, they have an additional challenge in the job market- especially if the hospital they’re applying to has limited spots. Something else to note is that employment opportunities this year can be found in the aged care and disability sectors, and also in Australia’s regional and remote areas.
A nurses union report in 2014 argued that, “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.” Statistics reveal that between 2011 and 2012, 3,095 foreign nurses were granted working visas in Australia.
Though on the other side of the fence, Michael Roff, Chief Executive of the Australian Hospitals Association, pulled the argument back to the lack of specialisation, saying that overseas nurses are essential for filling more highly specialised jobs.
Interestingly, the QLD Government is tackling the problem head on, and now there are now more employment opportunities available for graduate nurses and midwives with Queensland Health providing offering of up to 4000 places to suitably qualified nursing and midwifery graduates, until 2019.
What do you think? With the link between unemployed graduates and nursing demand notoriously disentangled, where does the burden lie?
Find out what a career in nursing is REALLY like with another of our favourite articles… Read now.