Job openings for nurses, pharmacists, radiology technologists and other jobs in health care are near historic lows, according to a report released Thursday by the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
The number of openings four or five years ago ran into the double digits.
"The employment picture has changed," said Judith Warmuth, vice president-workforce at the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
The slow economic recovery and high unemployment rate had a part in this. But schools throughout the state responded to the nursing shortage by significantly expanding their programs.
"The university and technical schools have stepped up to the plate," Warmuth said.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee doubled the size of its undergraduate nursing program at the height of shortage in the last decade. The university graduated 100 nurses from its undergraduate program and 50 from its graduate programs last month.
"Our graduates are getting jobs," said Sally Lundeen, dean of the College of Nursing. "But they may not be getting their dream job."
She remembers when new graduates would receive signing bonuses in exchange for a multi-year commitment.
"That was at the height of the shortage," Lundeen said. "We are not seeing that now."
Columbia St. Mary's Health System stopped offering signing bonuses about two years ago, said Cheryl Hill, vice president of human resources.
The health system, which employs about 1,200 nurses, currently has 12 openings.
Ten years ago, health systems were recruiting nurses from countries such as India and the Philippines.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association report is based on information gathered in October 2011 and is just on hospital jobs.
The labor market's response to the shortage of nurses and other professionals isn't surprising: Jobs in health care generally pay better than those in the overall economy, provide better benefits, offer more job security and allow for more flexibility, such as working part time.
"And I would add one more thing: It is a rewarding job," said Warmuth of the hospital association.
The report notes that many of the people in health care are nearing retirement. And job openings for physical therapists and occupational therapists as well as for certified nursing assistants still are above 5%.
The report also found that hiring for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and physician assistants has soared in the past decade.
Hospitals employed 1,096 nurse practitioners, including those employed part time or as consultants and contractors, in 2011 compared with 709 in 2009.
They also employed 416 physician assistants, up from 329 in 2009, and 274 nurse anesthetists, up from 198 in 2009, according to the report.
Wisconsin has about 4,000 nurse practitioners and about 2,100 physician assistants.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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