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Training Program Props Up New Nurses in Tough Job Market

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, August 13, 2012

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A few dozen nurses are packed into this room at Sutter medical center in Roseville to practice a scenario none of them looks forward to.  

A patient's heart has stopped beating, and a loved one is hysterical.  The nurses job is to bring life back to the patient.
This practice run is part of RN STRONG, a residency program that gives support and opportunity to first time nurses. They get additional training while attending to patients.  
"I've wanted to become a nurse forever, I just love being around people," says Crystal Rutschmann, who started in the program a month ago. 
"I've had a lot of health problems myself so I can really relate to a lot of things that patients are going through, " she says.
Rutschmann is grateful to have a job through RN STRONG. After she graduated from nursing school, she was unemployed for seven months. She says she applied for 88 jobs. Recent data suggest she's not alone - more than one in five nursing school graduates in California is unable to find a job within a year. 
"It's a lot harder to get a job right now. So I think that their support along with helping you transition from being a brand new nurse into a seasoned nurse is a great idea," says Rutschmann.
It used to be much easier to find a job in nursing.
"At almost any time in the last 20-30 years, the red carpet has been laid down for them," says David Auerbach, a health economist with the RAND Corporation.
He says past nursing shortages made it easy to enter the profession.  But in the past decade, nursing schools have almost doubled their number of graduates nationwide.
At the same time, the troubled economy has kept baby boomer nurses working longer. 
"It's this impressive growth in nursing school output hitting right into the recession, which is causing people to hang onto jobs and not retire," he says. 
He says it might be hard for new nurses to find jobs for the next few years.
But demand will come back when older nurses leave, as the population ages, and more people get health insurance.
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"Despite what's happening today, there could be shortages again, if people don't continue going to school and doing what they're doing now," Auerbach adds.  
So RAND says health institutions and policymakers should look for ways to avoid future nursing shortages. It says that would help assure the quality of patient care, and control costs.
"It is critical from patient care standpoint, from infrastructure, from everything that the graduates that we get, we try to get them in the door as best we can, give them a very, very good program and get them to stay with us," says Monica Small,
Director of Clinical Workforce Development at Sutter.
Sutter's RN STRONG program is partly funded through a federal Department of Labor economic stimulus grant.  
Two million dollars helps to support 100 new nurses.
The idea for RN STRONG pre-dated the recession.
Small says what makes this residency program stand out is its hiring philosophy.
"Instead of following the model of waiting until a nurse leaves and then you post the position, what this is doing is saying realistically we project that we're probably going to have so-and-so leaving or whatever in the next six months or whatever. So we're going to be spending the money anyway to hire down the road, so let's bring them on now so that by the time the person leaves they're ready and they're sliding right into positions. And so far that's working."
The California nurses who do find a job can make a comfortable living. A two-year degree can lead to average salary of almost $90,000 a year. 
The number of nurses hired by RN STRONG barely makes a dent in the number looking for work.
But when older nurses do start retiring, Sacramento area Sutter medical centers will have nurses already on hand to replace them. 

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