Only a few years ago, many nursing students had multiple job offers before they graduated. But now only about one of every five graduates gets a job right away.

Favorable future, problematic present

Yet according to many industry experts, a nursing shortage looms on the horizon. As the aging population continues to grow, healthcare reform will expand coverage to more than 30 million previously uninsured people and an expected shortage of physicians will shift more work onto nurses.

In addition, about 40 percent of RNs are over age 50. "When the economy turns around, many will retire," says Alice Swan, interim dean at St. Catherine University's Henrietta Schmoll School of Health (

The long-term forecast may be favorable, but new graduates are living in the present, and they're faced with a tough job market. Hospital jobs - the traditional first step in a nursing career - are scarce. Swan urges recent grads to "look for new places where their knowledge and skills may be needed."

Points of entry

Mary Rowan, director of pre-licensure programs at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing (, agrees. She suggests that new RNs consider long-term care or community-based programs such as home health agencies. "These are good points of entry into the profession," she says.

Other possibilities include clinical research, employee wellness programs, and medical device and pharmaceutical companies.

Recent grads may also have a better chance of finding a job if they're willing to look outside the Twin Cities metro area. Shortages of healthcare personnel in rural areas are often acute, in fact, 30 Minnesota counties and portions of 20 more have been designated by the federal government as Health Professional Shortage Areas.

"Nursing education has a lot of value," Swan says. "But times are changing." And that means that new grads must be creative and proactive in their job search.