7 Reasons Why a Career in Nursing Can Be Recession-Proof

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated September 12, 2022
    Historically, nursing has been a recession-proof profession. Use these strategies to help raise your job potential to offset an economic downturn.
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    • The Great Recession from 2007-2009 demonstrated the resilience of the nursing profession through an economic downturn.
    • Those lessons can be used whenever the economy is in a general decline.
    • The nursing profession is reliable and recession-proof, which is supported by several factors and attributes.

    What happens to nurses when the economy is in a recession? While some believe that the nursing profession is not recession-proof, other nursing experts have experienced the benefits of nursing during a recession.

    We spoke with two nurses with extensive clinical experience about why they believe nursing can weather a recession and the advice they offer to nurses who are nervous. Find out reasons why nursing is a recession-proof profession.

    How Is Nursing Recession-Proof?

    Our two nurse contributors are Benjamin Rose, a registered nurse and personal trainer, and Martha Paulson, MSN, RN, CEPN, an experienced nursing leader with 20 years clinical and administrative experience in a large healthcare system.

    Both nurses clearly explain why they believe nursing is a recession-proof profession. You can use these factors to help prepare for any downturn in the economy, such as the one that occurred in December 2007.

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) examined trends in the nursing labor market from 2002-2015, including the Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009. They found data across more than one decade that supports nursing as a recession-proof profession.

    Paulson agrees, stating that as more disease strains appear and the world population grows, so does the demand for nurses. This also opens new employment opportunities and options for career growth.

    “More people means more health needs, risks for new infectious diseases, and higher aging populations,” Paulson says. “We recently saw the effects of COVID-19 increasing the demand for nurses … Facilities had to turn to travel nurses and offer crisis rates to fill the demand.”

    In October 2009, the total unemployment rate reached 10%. That rate was exceeded for a short time during the second quarter of 2020 when it reached 13% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    However, by the fourth quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate had rapidly declined to 6.7%. During the Great Recession, unemployment took two years to lose 1.2%, landing at 8.8% in October 2011.

    While many in the country were struggling with job loss from 2008 to 2009, the healthcare sector was adding nursing jobs. The BLS referred to the healthcare market as “the real jobs machine” as far back as 1992.

    “There will always be sick and injured individuals in need of your services. Thus, the nation may enter a recession, but the number of sick and injured will not decrease,” Rose says.

    The profession experienced a notable growth period from 2007 to 2010, when nursing employment rose by 7.6% across the country. Demand for nurses also had a positive effect on wages, which also rose by 8.4%. The researchers evaluated employment in five professional settings, including:

    • General medical or surgical hospitals
    • Physicians’ offices
    • Nursing care facilities
    • Home healthcare
    • Employment services

    Between 2002 and 2015 the distribution of nursing employment remained relatively stable. The five professional settings listed above employed 78.5-79.9% of nurses and hospitals accounted for 55.8-57.1%. Yet, overall the opportunities and wages improved.

    “Nurses help with health maintenance, complication prevention, operation support, and postoperative recovery,” Paulson says. “Every step of the way, a nurse is needed. That’s why so many different specialties exist.”

    Experts believe that this pattern will continue as an aging population, new medical treatments, and pharmaceutical breakthroughs will likely drive the demand for registered nurses. Rose concurs with this estimation.

    “As the population ages and individuals live longer due to improvements in healthcare, the medical field is busier than ever. In the next few years, a significant increase in the need for nurses is anticipated,” Rose says.

    7 Qualities That Make Nursing a Reliable Job

    In addition to the consistent demand demonstrated in the data, there are seven qualities of nursing that makes it a reliable profession no matter the state of the economy.

    1. Career Advancement

    Paulson points out that advancement options are nearly always available. After several years of experience, nurses can explore clinical management options, serve on hospital committees, or advance their education.

    Career advancement is helpful during a recession if registered nurses (RNs) may want to pivot work settings or return to nursing school. Nurses with an advanced education have the opportunity to work as nurse practitioners, nurse researchers, or seek employment in management or nurse administration.

    New nurses need mentors to learn about specific facilities, workflows, and changing standards,” she says. “A seasoned nurse that has experienced numerous complications and changes is highly valuable to facilities to help lead a good example for new staff.”

    2. Flexibility

    Nursing is a flexible profession. There are schedule options, professional setting changes, and even geographical choices for nurses who are looking for more flexibility or variety in their professional life. This opens up opportunities for nurses who may need more hours during a recession or want to relocate due to financial reasons.

    Facilities are offering 10- and 12-hour shifts to accommodate nurses who are looking for more flexibility in their schedules. Nurses who work 12-hour shifts work three days a week.

    Nursing is a 24-hour/365-day-a-year job. But there are employment opportunities where nurses can work more traditional daytime hours. Facilities are also recognizing the need to provide greater support to their nursing staff, which helps with work/life balance and avoids nurse burnout.

    3. Competitive Salary

    Having a competitive salary allows nurses to save during a slower economy. While many nurses enter nursing because they want to help others, nurses are also competitively paid for their effort. According to the BLS, the average annual salary for a registered nurse is $82,750.

    This is far higher than the average annual salary for all occupations, which is $58,260. The same data show that nurse midwives and nurse practitioners make an average annual salary between $114,000-$118,000; nurse anesthetists earn $202,470.

    4. Specialization

    Nurses are vital to the provision of healthcare. For this reason, there are over 100 areas of healthcare where nurses work. They have the opportunity to focus nursing care on a specialized population of patients, or they may choose employment outside the clinical setting.

    Having the ability to specialize in various patient populations or settings allows nurses to be nimble throughout a recession. Nurses can find information on over 100 potential healthcare practices and job opportunities in our guide to nursing specializations and concentrations.

    5. Per Diem and Travel Nursing

    Nurses also have more employment options than most other professions, which contributes to a reliable and consistent income during a recession. For example, nurses may choose to work “per day” or per diem for hospitals or other facilities.

    Per diem nursing positions can range from working for one day to covering a nurse on maternity leave or seasonal coverage. This offers nurses a flexible schedule and higher hourly pay, but it comes without benefits or a guarantee of work hours.

    Nurses may also choose to work as travel nurses. These professionals are paid a premium wage for working outside their home area. They fill nursing shortages at healthcare facilities for weeks or months.

    6. Variety of Work Settings

    Nurses also have the opportunity to choose from a variety of professional work settings as an RN. This expands the reliability of employment in the nursing profession, especially when we might see jobs being more scarce during a recession. For example, nurses can work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and outpatient clinics.

    They may also choose to work in telehealth nursing or off-site telemetry facilities. Nurses are needed in primary and secondary schools, and they play a role in colleges and universities. Nurses are also employed in jails and the prison system, or may choose to work as nurse legal consultants.

    7. Transferable Career Skills

    Paulson points out that nursing is a versatile profession. During a nursing program and while working, nurses master a wide range of transferable skills. This provides nurses with resiliency during a recession, or in any time nurses might want to pivot careers.

    Paulson identifies soft nursing skills like communication, compassion, and working under pressure as just three skills that most employers are seeking in a new hire. Other transferable skills nurses learn include:

    • Leadership
    • Time management
    • Conflict resolution
    • Risk management

    Nurses also develop a fundamental ability to assess, plan, and execute an intervention based on years of patient care experience.

    Meet Our Contributors

    Portrait of Benjamin Rose, RN

    Benjamin Rose, RN

    Benjamin Rose is the cofounder of TrainerAcademy.org. He is a registered nurse and also a personal trainer with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. Among other disciplines, he is an expert in sports conditioning and strength training.

    Portrait of Martha Paulson, MSN, RN, CEPN

    Martha Paulson, MSN, RN, CEPN

    Martha Paulson is an experienced nurse leader with extensive clinical experience in critical care, cardiovascular, and acute care. She worked for 20 years throughout the largest healthcare systems in Denver, Colorado, as a clinical nurse, manager, and director. Recently relocated to Plano, Texas, Paulson is now a clinical manager at Advantis Medical Staffing, coaching and helping new clinicians transition into travel nursing and advance their careers. Her strengths include nursing program strategy and design, crisis management, team development, mentorship, and raising the bar on service excellence.