Nursing jobs still in high demand in the Bay Area

Appeared in: SF Gate

By: Amy Dobson

When economic times get tough we all begin to wonder if there is such a thing as job security anymore. But in spite of the dismal employment climate, nursing remains a bright spot for job seekers as healthcare organizations scramble to fill positions to meet the medical needs of our growing population.

When it comes to nursing, there are so many different avenues within the field that anyone looking in from the outside can quickly become overwhelmed. Sometimes the best thing to do is jump in anyway, get your feet wet and then decide which current to follow.

"Nurses work in almost every conceivable arena," says Audrey Berman, dean of nursing at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland. "Mostly, those just entering the field are generalists and must see each job they take as an opportunity to grow and enhance their repertoire of skills and knowledge."

There is a big difference, for example, between knowing how to draw blood from an adult and being able to do it on a preemie who is screaming at the top of his lungs. It often takes firsthand experience like that to help a nurse decide which avenue will be best for him or her over the long term.

Even though many people think of hospitals when they think of nurses, it is primarily the nursing jobs outside of hospital settings that are going to be on the increase. Currently about half of all nurses are employed in a facility other than a hospital, and the gap is expected to widen more in the years to come. This shift has happened in large part due to technological advances that allow an increasing number of procedures to take place in physicians' offices or clinics.

Kevin McCormack, media relations manager at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, says his hospital is getting more applications for RN positions, but that there is less need to add any more positions. "We've seen declining inpatient and outpatient volumes over the past few months," says McCormack. "I think the combination of people losing their jobs, and their health care coverage - or even just the fear of it - is resulting in a real slowdown in activity. I've talked to doctors who say it's not just cosmetic procedures patients are skipping - it's screening exams such as colonoscopies. Some are even putting off quality-of-life procedures like hip- and knee-replacement surgeries."

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is starting to reflect this same trend, and for the first time since 2004, hospitals have posted a net loss of jobs. However, there's no need to panic: the loss added up to 700 fewer workers across all hospital jobs. This is a small number compared to the 4.71 million total people employed by hospitals across the country. Also, it is important to note that there are 110,800 more hospital jobs now compared to one year ago. Thus, this sector of health care is still adding positions, just not at quite as fast a rate as before. Keep in mind this is just for jobs within hospitals. According to the BLS, the health care sector overall added a total of 13,500 jobs in March, and most of these were in ambulatory care facilities.

One thing to remember is that any let-up in hiring is sure to be temporary. For one thing, there is still the issue of an aging population of baby boomers. It is true that they might not be able to afford joint replacement surgeries, but they can still see a doctor to get antibiotics for a case of pneumonia. "The projections of the nurse shortage are not based entirely on replacing existing nurses," says Berman. "The actual need is for more nurses - estimates are for a 500,000-plus shortfall of nurses in the next 10 to 15 years." Given the time it takes to become certified as a nurse, now might be the perfect time to apply to certificate and degree programs. In two years - about the minimum time it will take to become certified - the economy will likely be back to strong enough levels for people to make use of the healthcare system. Besides being a good way to keep a roof over one's head and food on the table, nursing brings with it a sense of accomplishment that few other jobs can.


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