"I’m not too worried about not being able to find a job," Huerta says. "I’m sure something will come up."
She has every reason to be confident. Nurses are in high demand, particularly ones with bilingual skills.
The gap between the number of job vacancies and the scarcity of registered nurses is wider than ever, says Cheryl Peterson, senior policy analyst at the American Nurses Association in Washington.
The demand for bilingual and bicultural nurses has skyrocketed in recent years, propelled by the swelling number of immigrants—especially Hispanics, who represent about 15 percent of the country’s total population but only 2 percent of all registered nurses.
Huerta, who was born in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish, will have an advantage over many of her classmates when in comes to negotiating job offers.
"There is no doubt that the scarcity of nursing professionals is widespread," Peterson notes. "But the shortage of bilingual nurses is one of the hardest-hit areas."
Fortunately for recruiters, several schools are emphasizing a need for bilingual nurses. Carroll College, nestled in Waukesha in the heart of America’s dairy land, created the Hispanic Nursing Project in 2004. The initiative provides grants and other academic support to students who are bilingual or bicultural, says Dee Dee Wallace, program coordinator.
Huerta was one of the first students to enroll in the Carroll program. Similar initiatives have popped up across the country, including at Washington State University and the University of Texas at El Paso.
It promises not only to ease talent shortages but create more fertile ground for recruiting. Talent acquisition in the health care industry must take into account several important considerations.
For one, long-distance recruiting likely won’t pay off, since nursing graduates are generally not willing to relocate.
"Nurses like to stay local," says Angie Millan, president of the Los Angeles chapter for the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. "I graduated in Los Angeles and have been working in the community for more than 20 years."
What’s more, the programs are relatively small, which is not surprising given the limited pool of qualified students, Millan notes. Against this backdrop, she stresses the importance for recruiters to develop personal relationships with the potential candidates.
"Having an understanding who these individuals are and what their needs are will be critical in recruiting them," she says. Millan recommends that companies be as generous as possible with flextime benefits.
"Many Hispanic nurses have families and small children to take care of," she says. "Flexibility may mean more to them than salaries sometimes."
Recruiters should also keep in mind that accessing students in these programs may require a certain amount of cold-calling and networking.
"The nursing industry does not have many central databanks," Peterson says. "Information is often fragmented and won’t necessarily be listed on the Internet."
A good starting point for recruiters is to call their local nursing schools to find out whether they offer special initiatives.
Programs like the Hispanic Nursing Project serve several critical purposes, Peterson notes. For one, they are developing a new generation of nurses who can meet the health care needs of the country’s growing immigrant population. Further, they are increasing diversity within the nursing profession, something that is needed since more than 97 percent of nurses are white females, Peterson explains.
Another Wisconsin school, Marquette University in Milwaukee, launched the Beyond Project, which provides financial grants and leadership development support to individuals from under-represented backgrounds who want to major in nursing. This means targeting not only Hispanics but also African-American and Asian students, according to Terrie Garcia, the project’s coordinator. The Beyond Project also offers mentoring and leadership training to help minority nursing students develop the skills necessary to become future decision-makers in the health care industry.
For the moment, however, Huerta is focused on completing her studies. The job hunt is secondary. It’s probably a wise strategy, considering the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting that 587,000 new jobs will be added for registered nurses between 2006 and 2016.
"This is a good time for me to be on this path," she notes. "I’ll be able to help others and to have a secure professional future."