SOUTH OGDEN -- When Bridgette Berkeley goes to work as an intensive care unit nurse at Ogden Regional Medical Center, she feels fortunate.
A July nursing graduate from Stevens-Henager College, Berkeley said she's bucking the trend to already have the job she wants such a short time after graduation.
"I was lucky to already have a job here," she said, noting that she'd been a secretary and a nursing assistant at the hospital while in school. "That's how I got hired. They knew my work ethic."
Berkeley, 27, said she knows her classmates have struggled to get nursing jobs.
"One barely got a job. One works in home health, and one keeps applying and keeps getting interviews. You have to have good interview skills."
And Berkeley knows of a graduate from six months earlier who had to take a job at a Wyoming hospital, so she has to commute three days a week for her 12-hour shifts.
Just like in other professions, the down economy is being blamed for a current abundance of nursing graduates. It's a stark contrast from five years ago when nursing graduates were getting large bonuses to hire on, Berkeley said.
But those close to the situation say the current abundance of nurses is only a temporary problem.
"We are fortunate in Utah, and especially in the Ogden area, to have enough nurses to take care of our population," said Susan B. Thornock, interim chairwoman of the Weber State University School of Nursing.
"I can say that today, but that cannot be guaranteed for tomorrow or next month or next year."
Thornock said cutting back on the number of nursing students would be the wrong course of action, locally or nationally.
She said "The Future of Nursing," a 2010 national report by the Institute of Medicine and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, looked closely at how to best supply the country's need for nurses.
"They encouraged schools and colleges of nursing to not decrease the number of students they presently educate but to increase the level of education," she said.
Thornock said Weber State has continued to admit the same number of associate degree RNs but increased the number of post-licensure bachelor of nursing students.
Elizabeth Later, chief nursing officer at Ogden Regional, said both the aging population and an aging nursing workforce are matters of concern.
"The average age of nurses today is 46. One fourth of all RNs in the country this year will be in their 50s."
Later said the need for nurses will increase greatly about the time many will be leaving the profession as the baby boomer population ages.
Nationally, she said, turnover rates are as high as 20 percent for nurses.
"Calling for more nursing students is really going to prevent this perfect storm that is coming," Later said. "If we react to the economy now, we will have problems down the road."
Chris Dallin, spokesman for McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, said the Bureau of Labor predicts the demand for nurses will really rise between 2014 and 2016. In the meantime, he said, nurses may not be hired immediately after graduation.
He said the average wait time for new nurses to get a job is two to six months.
"I know a lot of people with a business degree wait a lot longer than that, especially in this market."
Thornock said the luxury of having enough nurses may last for only the next few years, according to the Institute of Medicine and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report.
Later agrees, saying, "Even though at the moment nursing grads aren't finding jobs, that's going to go away. What has happened in the economy has kind of hidden the nursing shortage."
Later said Ogden Regional has nursing openings but only for those with the required experience.
Tammy Buckway, a December 2010 Weber State nursing graduate, said she believes an abundance of nurses arose when the economy forced experienced nurses who had been working part time or on an as-needed basis into more rigorous work schedules to provide for their families.
But she said also at issue is the way hospitals and other health care facilities have had to cut back on the number of people on the payroll.
"We don't have extra just in case we need them anymore," Buckway said. "We work at what we need, and we call people in if we need additional."
Buckway said this change was brought about by the way insurance companies now pay for services to reduce costs.
"Medicine," Dallin said, "is about increasing quality and decreasing costs."
One way McKay-Dee Hospital has cut costs, he said, is by pursuing a residency program for new nursing graduates.
"If you've graduated and you're a nurse and you have less than one year experience, we put you through a one-year residency program," Dallin said. "That gives you the experience that you need."
Buckway said it's that lack of experience that keeps many nursing graduates from finding a job because jobs that open up are filled by those with experience.
While she believes the residency program is one way to address that need, she said nursing graduates willing to take jobs outside the hospital also will gain on-the-job experience.
"When you come out of school as a new nursing grad, just keep all your options open. The whole idea is to get your foot in the door, on the floor and gain experience."
Buckway is a prime example, having started at a long-term care rehabilitation facility.
"I gained great knowledge and was able to build on my skills from nursing," including in time management, assessment and patient skills, she said.
Buckway then moved to her current position in home health and hospice, where she's gaining more experience she needs should she decide to move to a hospital position.