Venture: Nursing grads face surprisingly tough job market

Venture: Nursing grads face surprisingly tough job market
Rhys Gibson says he applied for hundreds of nursing jobs after graduating from UIC in 2009.
Venture: Nursing grads face surprisingly tough job market
Rhys Gibson says he applied for hundreds of nursing jobs after graduating from UIC in 2009.

Venture: Nursing grads face surprisingly tough job market

Perhaps the biggest economic news this week will be the monthly report on unemployment, due out Friday.

Unemployment has been edging down – and that’s sure to be something of a relief to worried college seniors.

But one group among those stressed-out graduates may surprise you.

PHIL ZACK: We’re going to start in a few minutes, if you guys want to get your pizza and get settled.

Three recent graduates - in a field I will divulge in a minute - are about to tell their job-hunt stories to a room full of seniors at the University of Illinois Chicago.

QUENTIN CARDENAS: Two interviews out of over 100 applications.
SALLY BERKO: Talk to people that you know, because if you think you’re just going to go online and apply for a couple of jobs and wait and see, you may be waiting for a long time.
RHYS GIBSON: I mean I thought I was the cat’s meow and everything, because I’m an African-American guy coming out of here – I was waiting for the red carpet, I had the grades, had the experience, to an extent but not the practical experience as a nurse working on the floor.

Yeah, you heard him right. Nursing.

Wait—Haven’t people been talking about a nursing shortage for years?

Haven’t all those English majors been kind of kicking themselves, thinking, ah I should have gone to nursing school?

Well, turns out the picture is a little more complicated.

Rhys Gibson is the last UIC nursing grad you heard - the one who thought he was the cat’s meow.

He discovered the stable career he thought he’d chosen wasn’t immune from the recession.

GIBSON: There isn’t a whole lot of money, even on my unit, I was lucky enough to make it in when I did because there hasn’t been another RN1 since and that was December ‘09 when I got that job offer.

He says he applied for hundreds of jobs and finally landed his current position as a nurse on a geriatric psychiatry ward at Rush University Medical Center.

Gibson is just one of thousands of people who entered nursing schools in Illinois in recent years, many in response to a drumbeat of news about a looming nurse shortage.

Cathy Grossi is with the Illinois Hospital Association.

GROSSI: There’s been a concerted effort led by the Illinois Center for Nursing to expand the capacity of the educational programming across Illinois to accommodate student interest for nursing education. So we’ve increased capacity around the state about 25 percent.

That’s since 2006. But then the recession hit in 2007.

And while it’s officially been over since 2009, the effects have been deep and longlasting, even in health care - one of the brighter growth areas of the economy.

GROSSI: We are now experiencing an increase in the number of graduates coupled with the time temporarily where there’s probably not as much opportunity as there was in the past.

Grossi says vacancies in nurse jobs at Illinois hospitals fell by more than half from 2008 to 2010.

One reason is that as the recession hit and people lost their jobs and health benefits, they stopped going to hospitals as much so not as many nurses are needed.

Another reason is that older nurses who were about to retire have kept working instead.

Patricia Lewis is an associate dean at the UIC College of Nursing.

LEWIS: We’ve also seen a lot of nurses with experience who might have been working part-time or who might have actually not been participating in the labor force because they had young children come back to work at a point in time when they might not ordinarily have done that because spouses lost positions.

But Lewis and most everyone else say the shortage is real - just wait a few years.

Nationally, one leading researcher projects a shortfall of a quarter million nurses by 2025 as a lot of older nurses retire and baby boomers need more health care.

But that’s not too much comfort to students about to graduate now.

ANNA LENDABARKER: I do feel a little let down at this point when searching for these jobs and you look and you see, you need 6 years of experience, it’s like, this is getting kind of ridiculous.

Anna Lendabarker will get her diploma from UIC this coming Thursday.

She really wants to work as a nurse on a neonatal intensive-care unit.

But reality is intervening.

She’s been working at a small community hospital as a nurse assistant.

A year ago, she hadn’t planned to try to get a permanent job there.

But now she says she plans to explore it.

LENDABARKER: Hopefully I could work there but they’re slow too. They’re having a dip in patients now. So it’s kind of difficult to approach anyone in management saying, do you need another nurse when they’re canceling nurses left and right for shifts.

UIC’s Patricia Lewis says there are jobs out there – in clinics and long-term care facilities, and outside Chicago.

So she’s confident students will find work if they adjust their expectations – but many still feel discouraged.

LEWIS: I think there’s disappointment and there’s anxiety. I think that we’ve been able to assure them that really the prospects for their future careers are very good and I do think that they believe it. They just wish it would come faster.

So if you’re an eight-year-old out there considering a job in nursing, you may hit the sweet spot of that big shortage in 2025.

Today’s grads just hope things pick up a lot sooner.

Now for our Windy Indicator – where we ask anyone and everyone – how’s business?

Today – the Mother’s Day brunch economy.

CHAD BERTELSMAN: We generally see in the last two or three weeks before Mother’s Day, it just increases exponentially.

Those would be brunch reservations at Spiaggia, the Italian restaurant on the Magnificent Mile.

Chad Bertelsman is the manager.

He says Mother’s Day is the one time a year they open during the day, and they usually sell out – and he expects the same this year.

In fact, Bertelsman says they’ve been adding more expensive items lately, including a $140 Wagyu steak from Australia, that he says they can’t order enough of.

BERTELSMAN: We also have this amazing dish with burratta, it’s this creamy white cheese that’s served with lumps of caviar on top of each and that’s $58 and people buy that sitting at the bar as a snack.

Of course, it can’t hurt that President Barack Obama has reportedly called Spiaggia’s Tony Mantuano his favorite chef.

BERTELSMAN: We actually even started loosely tracking how many people mentioned the Obamas when they would make reservations and it was considerable – more than 30 percent would at least mention it.

So the caviar and Wagyu steak economy? Doing just fine, especially with a presidential endorsement.

Next week, our windy indicator checks in on the business of boxes.