More nursing students eyeing graduate school

BY CHRIS CLARK | MAY 04, 2009 7:30 AM

Despite a shortage of nurses nationwide, the economic recession is limiting the number of positions available to graduating nursing majors.

To make themselves more competitive, many are heading to graduate school to gain training in a specific area of the field.

Nursing students will continue to have job opportunities, but they may not be as ideal as in the past, said Kathleen Hanson, the associate dean of academic affairs for the UI College of Nursing.

“Last year, I could have safely said all students could walk out the door and have whatever job they want,” she said.

Not anymore.According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow by 23 percent between 2006 and 2016. But work in hospitals — where Hanson said most graduates tend to look for a job first — is not expected to grow as rapidly.

Nursing graduates across the nation are staying in school longer to bolster their résumés before entering the job market.

Though undergraduate admissions at the UI was recently cut in half — from approximately 75 per semester to roughly 75 per year — Hanson said enrollment in the master’s program has doubled since 2006.

“Students want to be more competitive for the job market. There’s a desire to become prepared in an area that would give you more economy, more purpose,” Hanson said. “It’s all about specializing.”

Sophomore nursing student Lauren Gal said she plans to get a job before going back to school for a master’s degree. While clinical experience required of undergraduate students is beneficial, professional experience will help her focus her interests within the field.

Gal, a Libertyville, Ill., native, said she hopes to get a job at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago after graduation.

“You don’t really know [what you want to do] until you’ve experienced it,” she said, adding a master’s degree will prepare her for a more demanding, higher-paying career.

Work experience is often an important factor when applying to graduate school, Hanson said.
Kelly Gonzales, a Ph.D. student in the UI College of Nursing, said she missed the application deadline for graduate schools, but it ended up being a good thing. After working at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids for a year, the Iowa City native heard about a new UI program allowing students with fewer than two years of nursing experience to join.

Since entering the program, Gonzales has landed a job in Omaha, where she is simultaneously teaching and finishing her school work.

Hanson said the best way for undergraduates to approach the job search to keep their minds and options open.

“Stay flexible in your mind,” she said. “The more you think this is the only job you want, then the more limited you are to your employer.”

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