*Sigh* http://www.greenwichtime.com/news/ar...bs-1000821.php

Nursing is in Colleen Callender's blood. From her mother to her aunts to her cousins, the 24-year-old's family is full of women in the nursing profession.

So, amid widespread talk of a nursing shortage when Callender entered the registered nursing program at Atlantic Cape Community College in 2008, her career choice appeared obvious. Local nursing programs had expanded to accommodate more students, and job security seemed to be guaranteed, she said.

Yet more than eight months after Callender graduated from Atlantic Cape, she remains unemployed. She can rattle off about a dozen nursing jobs she's applied for without so much as a returned phone call from the employer.

"I did not expect this," Callender told The Press of Atlantic City. "It's been so frustrating because I don't have any bad habits. I'm 24. I have so many years ahead of me, but I can't get hired. Everyone said we'd have job security, but that doesn't seem to be the case."

That's a drastically different picture of the nursing industry than the one painted just a few years ago.

In 2004, a study of the region's health care work force conducted by the Atlantic and Cape May Workforce Investment Board found that the most pressing need in the local healthcare industry was for registered nurses. More than 11 percent of the nursing jobs available, including those at four acute-care hospitals, were unfilled, the study said.

Yet today, hospitals say that for the past four to five years the number of new nursing jobs available has remained static, while in some cases, the number of applicants has increased by more than 40 percent.

Those in the nursing industry say when the economy took a turn for the worse, older nurses who would have otherwise retired opted to keep their jobs. And other well-qualified nurses who had recently retired wanted to come back to work, making the market that much tighter.

What does it all mean for graduates of registered nursing programs?

Callender enrolled in a Rutgers University nursing program that was developed in partnership with Atlantic Cape. The Rutgers program augments an associate degree, and its graduates go on to earn a bachelor's in nursing.

In the past two years, nearly 50 of the 140 graduates of Atlantic Cape's nursing program have gone straight to the Rutgers program, many because they're unable to find work, college officials said.

"We have students that come back after graduation and say, 'I don't have a job. What do I do?'" said Carol Mohrfeld, chair of the nursing department at Atlantic Cape Community College. "The question becomes: Is it right to send all of these people out with the promise of jobs when there aren't any?"

After the Workforce Investment Board study was released in 2004, area nursing programs were on a mission to grow. More instructors were hired. Some academic buildings were expanded, and more students were accepted into nursing programs.

Atlantic Cape, which had traditionally taken on about 70 to 80 students a year, took in about 100 in 2005. But the school soon realized their graduates were not getting jobs. Today, the school has cut back to about 70 students a year.

"We have kind of flooded the market," Mohrfeld said. "Baby boomers are not leaving their jobs. Do I think that's going to change soon? Yes. But no one can really say when."

It's a similar story at Cumberland County College. There, in 2006, the school turned out 44 nursing program graduates. A year later, the number increased to more than 70.

At AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Susan Battaglia, the center's director of nursing recruitment and retention, said that within the past two or three years, the number of applicants for the hospital's new nursing positions have steadily increased. In recent years, the hospital, which has about 1,000 nurses on staff, has hired about 50 new nurses each year. Those nurses have a combination of associates degrees, bachelor's degrees or master's degrees.

In the past two to three years, the hospital saw applications jump from about 350 to about 500 for the 50 available positions.

"I tell new grads all the time that there's still a nursing shortage. It's just in a bit of a lull right now," Battaglia said. "We also tell people not to put all of their eggs in one basket. I think people think the only nursing jobs are in a hospital, but there are clinics, nursing homes, schools and physicians' offices as well."