Even before he began college, Beau Proctor knew exactly what he wanted to be — a nurse.
Although he’s always had a passion for the field, other factors influenced that decision.
"I’ve always wanted to do it," said Proctor, a Registered Nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. "But in high school, when we were thinking about jobs, whenever it came to nursing, people would always say that you wouldn’t have a problem finding a job and that you would be able to move and transition as you wanted — so that definitely weighed in on my decision."
The medical field as a whole, and nursing in particular, have long been considered "recession-proof" career paths, and for the most part they still are.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for nurses were expected to grow by about 22 percent between 2008 and 2018. The bureau also reports that overall job opportunities for nurses are "excellent," meaning there are more jobs than there are nurses.
"Among practitioners in the field, there is a shortage of nurses nationwide," said Gale Starich, dean of Brenau University’s School of Health. "There are probably a lot of causes for this, but one of which is that (the population) is getting older. People are living longer and the longer you stay alive, generally the more care you need.
"If you look into the employment literature, (nursing employment rates) have been really steady for a very long time, so we haven’t seen a lot of change in that all of our graduates are getting hired."
Though there have been an abundance of jobs for nurses, the field hasn’t totally dodged the recession bullet.
"The recession really did a number on us in terms of recruiters having their budgets slashed," Starich said. "Last year we actually had to cancel our (annual recruiting fair) because so few vendors could come."
When it comes to recruiting nurses, Katherine Rowland says her practices have remained the same, but the number of job seekers has changed.
"Over the past year, we have seen more people, nurses having difficulty with finding (first choice) positions. We’ve talked to more people from different states who are finding it difficult to find work where they are, so they are looking to relocate completely just to find a job," said Rowland, who is a NGMC nurse recruiter.
"We’re also seeing more applicants than we’ve had in the past. Last year, we hired close to 50 or so new grads and we hope to keep that up, but it’s tough because (in this economy) people are hanging onto the jobs that they have, so that decreases the overall number of positions we have to work with."
Elaine Taylor, who has been a nurse since 1975, has also noted changes.
"Due to the economy, what I’ve seen in the job market is nurses that have been part-time returning to the work force on a more full-time basis. And nurses that have been working in other fields are also returning to nursing because of the economy, and nurses who were thinking of retirement are having to postpone that plan," said Taylor, who is an associate professor in the nursing department at North Georgia College and State University.
"Organizations are hiring fewer new graduates to accommodate these nurses with more experience. This is the first year (since I joined the NGCSU staff in 2001) that a large percentage of the students in the (registered nurse) to (bachelor’s degree in nursing) program are not employed in nursing while attending school."
The shift in the economy has also affected the pool of nursing school applicants, Taylor said.
"In addition to the student that has always wanted to be a nurse, I have had more students with previous degrees or students returning to school after dealing with economic challenges," she said.
"Some of the latter are straightforward in telling me that they are interested in nursing because it is a guaranteed job. I can’t help but have concerns about the impact that it will have on the nursing profession in the long term if people are selecting nursing as a job versus as a profession."