Nursing skills gap warning

The job market may be tight nationwide for graduate nurses, but trainers at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology think their students will come out on top.

Head of nursing at NMIT, Karen Monahan, said the Government needed to start providing more jobs for graduate nurses now to prevent a skills gap in 10 years.

NMIT took on 63 first-year nursing students this year, average compared to previous years. Forty-six students enrolled in their final year of the three-year degree this week, and 57 sat the state exams at the end of last year.

Thirty-nine of these are employed as registered nurses, 28 of whom work for DHBs. Six work overseas in places such as the Gold Coast and Melbourne.

"The actual number taken in is irrelevant to clinical placements because Nelson is so small and it can only provide so many jobs," Ms Monahan said.

She said that while a large number of NMIT graduate nurses got jobs locally at the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board or at private centres, many had enrolled direct from high school, and were keen to see the world: "Some students do want to remove themselves from the area . . . that's very normal."

She said she had heard no concern about the job market from the current crop of third-year students, although the faculty tried to encourage them not to worry during the year as they still had to make it through their study.

Ms Monahan said NMIT had the second-highest number of graduate nurses to qualify for the Graduate Nurse Entry to Practice (NETP) run by DHBs nationwide, topped only by the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology.

"The majority of the time, NMIT graduates are very good at gaining employment."

Speaking about the situation nationwide, she said the present population of registered nurses was dominated by baby boomers, saying the average age of the nursing population was about 53. Within the next 10 years, these nurses would begin to retire, bringing about the need for a replacement generation of younger nurses.

Ms Monahan agreed that this resembled the dynamic currently playing out within the education sector, saying that there was nothing to stop capable older nurses remaining in their roles past the age of retirement, as many teachers have done.

"We're just in a bit of a lull right now."

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board director of nursing and midwifery said the board had expanded their NETP from 17 nurses in 2010 to 33 in 2014. Director of nursing and midwifery, Robyn Henderson, said the board interviewed 72 applicants of a total 120 who expressed an interest.

She said the nurses' preferred DHBs were taken into account during recruitment, as well as effective communication skills, good collegial relationships, recommendations from clinical placement referees and evidence of academic skills.

Through the NETP programme, the board offers a year-long contract to 33 graduate nurses, which allows them to work their way into registered nursing roles in a structured way. Ms Henderson said registered nurse roles were complex and demanding in contemporary healthcare, and the programme provided mentorship and support to beginners.

Health Workforce New Zealand funds the course costs for graduate nurses in the NETP programme and its equivalent for mental health nurses, while the board and some private community health providers fund their employment cost component.

Ms Henderson said on average, the board retained five nurses from each one-year NETP programme after it finished.

She acknowledged that 120 nurses applying for roles in Nelson sounded like a lot, but she was confident that most of them would find jobs in the end. "We value the contribution that the graduates make to our workforce and recognise the contribution they will make to the future nursing workforce of New Zealand. I don't know if you can ever have too many nurses as they will always be needed in some capacity."