Not so fast, aspiring nurses

Armine Khudanyan left college in 2009 ready for a career in nursing. But despite hearing for years about a nursing shortage, what she and her fellow Cal State Los Angeles nursing graduates found was a bunch of closed doors.

"In my graduating class there were 10 of us," said Khudanyan, 30, a native of Armenia who lives in Glendale. "Right out of school only three of us were able to get jobs. A lot of hospitals were not hiring, especially new grads."

Through a Verdugo Workforce Investment Board program funded by federal stimulus money, Khudanyan landed a job she loves in the emergency room at Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center.

The workforce board pays half the costs for hospitals to train new nurses, said Don Nakamoto, labor market specialist for the agency. The board has spent roughly $250,000 to subsidize the salaries of about 40 nurses during their 12- to 16-week training periods at Glendale Memorial, Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center and Verdugo Hills Hospital.

Kristin Anderson, senior health care recruiter at Glendale Memorial, said the hospital has added 10 nurses to its nursing corps of about 400 through the program.

In recent years, hospitals have been hard-pressed to pay training expenses, and many have turned to temps or launched national and even international nurse recruiting efforts, Nakamoto said.

"The public perception is that there is a nursing shortage and anyone who comes out of school has multiple job offers," Nakamoto said. But a few years ago, "bottlenecks started developing. It was happening throughout the country."

Paul Celuch, vice president of human resources at Verdugo Hills Hospital, said the high cost of training nurses have contributed to the bottleneck.

Decisions by many experienced nurses to extend their working careers because of the recession's impact on retirement accounts or their spouses' jobs has also kept the job market tight, he added.

Mike Dacumos, 25, said he was surprised at what happened after he earned his nursing degree last year.

"It was very difficult for grads like me to get a job in an acute setting," he said, adding that potential employers told him "there wasn't any funding for new grads."

His training was supported by the workforce board and he now is working in telemetry at Verdugo Hills Hospital.

"I have old classmates still searching after six or eight months, even at private agencies or in-home health care," he said. "They still can't get their foot in the door."

Khudanyan said she enjoys working at the Glendale Memorial ER, despite 12-hour shifts and an often hectic pace.

"I don't notice the time passing by," she said, adding that she works hard to stay up to date on medications and procedures because in the ER, "whatever we do, we do it fast."

"Someone has to give you the chance to come in and learn," Khudanyan said. "Then you can become an experienced nurse."

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