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Three nurse executives eye the current job market and its impact on the School’s graduates

As members of the School’s Nursing Practice Advisory Board, Diane Soules, Frankie Manning and Nancy Cherry bring valuable information to the School of Nursing about current trends in their own institutions, in health care as a whole, and in the nursing profession. In recent interviews about their perspectives on the nursing shortage and the demands of the current job market, they spoke about their need for nurses who are baccalaureate- and graduate-prepared as well as those trained to fill key specialty areas.

Diane Soules, associate administrator of patient care services at University of Washington Medical Center, noted that over 70% of the nursing staff have bachelor’s degrees or higher. Soules pointed out that most nurses today still work in hospitals, and suggested that "taking a trip through hospital nursing" provides a good foundation for many nursing careers.

In the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system, which provides care to more than 670,000 veterans throughout Western Washington, the B.S.N. degree is a "primary entry into practice." According to Frankie Manning, nursing executive for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Seattle Division of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, about 20% of their workforce hold master’s degrees, and about 6% have Ph.D.s. In addition, said Manning, "the Veterans health care system on the whole is probably the largest employer of nurse practitioners in the Seattle-Tacoma area."

Nancy Cherry, chief of nursing services for the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, commented that "upgrading skills in leadership, community assessment and organizational management are critical for public health practice settings." She estimated that 65% of her current workforce holds B.S.N. or higher degrees, including all public health nurses. Cherry further explained that, because public health nurses focus on population groups, they are in tune with the health needs of communities.

So what does all of this mean for B.S.N. students and alumni in the greater Seattle area?

"The market for B.S.N. graduates today is hot, hot, hot," emphasized Soules.

"Getting the right job may take a little while, like all jobs do, but having a bachelor’s degree is pretty important in health care." Manning concurred that "the job market for both R.N. and B.S.N. nurses is very good in terms of employability." She added, however, that although nurses can enter the VA system with a lesser degree, "they won’t be able to progress beyond a certain point without a B.S.N." In the public health sector, Cherry commented that, although those with past experience in public health are somewhat at an advantage, "finding registered nurses and nurse practitioners for the clinics and for jail health services is more difficult."

Asked if they had any advice for nurses who are considering upgrading their skills, or who may be returning to nursing from other careers, Soules suggested that "the industry as a whole has learned the value of nursing." She thinks that hospital administrators now recognize that reducing R.N. staffing below certain levels was a huge mistake, and that "the most cost-effective product comes with the role of the R.N." She also commented that "more and more executives recognize the value of a person’s background as they reenter the nursing profession."

At the VA, said Manning, the majority of people "come up through the ranks" to critical care. However, she added, "there are some who go there straight from school." She noted that there was a "pressing need" for more specialty care providers.

Cherry observed that nursing "provides a strong background" for many different careers. "There is an opportunity to be creative in a variety of areas, including hospitals, nursing homes, public health clinics and in home care." While the majority of public health nurses used to come from hospital settings, Cherry commented that the growing number of positions now available and the improved preparation through nursing school curriculums have allowed many nurses to go straight from school to positions in the public health setting.

Looking to the future of nursing, Soules noted that she is attempting to help nurses "age in their profession" by establishing "lift teams" in the hospital to assist with heavy tasks. "This is part of our recruitment and retention strategy, helping employees to stay healthy and to work long-term." She also advised new and veteran nurses to "go with their heart in choosing a career path."

Manning suggested that employers actively seek nurses for other careers because "nurses are very competent people." She also felt that nursing has been damaged by its stereotypical image and suggested that the best way to find replacements for the aging nursing work force is to upgrade its image in the media. "If every nurse reading this newsletter would share with others why nursing has been important to them and then recruit one other person to the profession, we wouldn’t have a nursing shortage," Manning stated. Cherry commented that public health nurses have the opportunity to assist families with access to health care and early interventions. "Public health nurses can influence lifestyles and behaviors that build healthy communities," she said, noting that they can also have a positive impact on public policy about health care services.