Graduates grow but jobs don’t

6 May 2014

The number of new nurses graduating is 33 per cent higher than five years ago and there is still no reliable tool for forecasting whether cohorts are still growing.

Nursing Review reported (see NewsFeed April 22) that nursing jobs for November graduates have remained static at around 900 for the past three years, while the number of November graduates has risen 25 per cent over the same time period to 1323.

The Nursing Council annual report to 31 March 2013 shows that the rise is an ongoing trend, with 1680 graduate nurses successfully sitting state finals in 2012–2013, up 33 per cent on the about 1200–1300 nurses a year emerging from nursing schools for most of the 2000s.

Strong demand for nursing school places and projections of nursing shortages in the near future have helped fuel the growth in graduates at the same time as the global financial crisis has lead to low nursing turnover and tight staffing budgets for district health boards.  The result has been frustrated graduates struggling to get jobs though the Nursing Council has informed the Ministry that nearly 93 per cent of graduates from November 2012 were nursing by November 2013.

Kathy Holloway, chair of the nursing education group NETS said while recent NETs destination surveys indicate jobs for new graduates staying at a consistent 900 a year that didn’t mean 900 jobs was meeting the need for nurses now or in the future.

“Everything that we’re hearing from the modeling that is being done nationally and internationally is that there is a looming nursing shortage.”

The Nursing Council released a report last year indicating a nursing shortage would start to hit from 2020 onwards with one scenario that the nursing workforce would have to grow 40 per cent by 2035 to meet the needs of the rapidly ageing population.

“(Nursing) intakes have been going up in places and it’s been deliberate and in many cases a response to regional need,” said Holloway. 

“We can only increase numbers if we have agreement with district health boards.” 

Unlike medical school places, there is no control on nursing intake numbers, which are decided by nursing schools in consultation with local DHBs.

Holloway said there were also no national tool for estimating how many nursing students would graduate in three years time due to a range of factors, including some nursing schools having shared first year programmes for health science degrees and a proportion of nursing students failing or taking family leave so they can take up to five years to complete their degrees.

While the Tertiary Education Commission required tertiary institutions to report how many students successfully pass courses and complete programmes, the data was at an institutional level and not broken down to the level of programmes like nursing, said Holloway.

She said while there was considerable interest in national attrition rates from nursing degrees, to date no work had been done to develop a model for estimating that if ‘x’ nursing students start in February 2014 then  ‘y’ graduates would be seeking jobs in November 2016.

Holloway said there was also currently no discussion about directing the size of nursing schools intakes.

“I think in the absence of a good model that allows us to plan from a more evidence-based perspective then where would we start?”

“The only modeling we’ve got at the moment tells us there is going to be a shortage of nurses. It has to be more than just an education solution; it’s got to be a solution that is a systems solution.”