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Nursing senior Megan Ruedebusch has had a "disheartening" job search. Out of the 15 hospitals she applied to, only about half have gotten back to her - all with negative responses.

"We were told coming in our freshman year that we would never have trouble getting a job," said Colin Plover, also a Nursing senior. Plover said he has applied to three hospitals and heard back from just one, which had already filled its nursing positions.

The tougher job market for nurses - typically a profession with enormous shortages - is a result of a combination of factors, including an increase in the supply of nurses and a decrease in demand for their services.

"When the unemployment rate goes up for other occupations, the nursing unemployment rate goes down," said Beverly Emonds, president of the Philadelphia Area Association of Health Care Recruiters.

Since nursing is a predominantly female profession, she explained, many women who had previously stopped working or were working part-time nursing jobs are now re-entering the workforce because their spouses have lost their jobs in other sectors.

Additionally, Emonds said, many older nurses who were planning to retire are no longer doing so because of economic uncertainty, reducing the number of available positions for new nurses.

Yet another factor reducing demand for nursing services is a nationwide decline in hospital visits, said Sharon Fleshman, senior associate director at Penn Career Services, who works with Nursing students. "People are postponing what's not completely critical," she said.

"If you're worried that you're going to lose your job, you're not going to have an elective procedure," Career Services director Patricia Rose added. "You might not even be thinking about health care for conditions that might warrant a hospitalization."

Rose pointed out that losing a job often meant losing health benefits as well, constituting another factor behind the decrease in hospital visits.

Emonds, however, said nurses' difficulty finding positions would be "very, very temporary" since economic recovery would reverse many of the factors behind the situation.

Until then, Fleshman said, Career Services is advising nurses to look into less traditional areas like home care, outpatient care and long-term care.

Plover, for example, said he was considering applying to nursing homes, even though such positions are "not necessarily as attractive."

"It's a question of looking a little more broadly - which, frankly, is what the Nursing students' classmates in the College, Wharton and Engineering are doing this year also," Rose said.

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