DENVER - Recent nursing graduates are having trouble finding jobs, despite hundreds of vacant positions in the Denver area.
Sara Chapman, for example, has a bachelor's of science degree in nursing from Seattle University and a Colorado nursing license. She is also part of the honor society of nursing.
Despite all of that, and her desire to find a job near her family here in Colorado, she says hospitals won't give her an interview.
"No one will talk to me here," she said.
She has a stack of rejection letters accumulated over the last six months. The average salary for an RN is $62,000, but to pay the bills during her job hunt Chapman took a job at a bath store for $9.50 an hour.
"There's probably close to 500 openings in the Denver metro area that are posted online," Chapman said. "I'm not qualified for any of them."
Colorado Public News found 752 openings advertised statewide among six employers. But only four of those jobs were open to new graduates.
About 10 years ago, experts predicted a severe shortage of nurses to care for an aging population. In response, nursing schools doubled their number of graduates from 73,000 to 161,000.
The predicted shortage never happened, however, as many other nurses delayed retiring due to the down economy.
"I've had chief nursing officers in the Denver area say 'please don't cut your enrollment,'" said Sarah Thompson, Dean of the University of Colorado's College of Nursing.
Thompson said her contacts have told her they know the current nursing workforce is aging and approaching retirement. So until area hospitals have openings for experienced nurses, she is urging her students to look for first jobs elsewhere.
"We're advising, encouraging students to look in rural areas."
To find her first job, Chapman had to go as far as Nome, Alaska. She made a two year commitment to a hospital less than 200 miles from Siberia, knowing she eventually wants to return to Colorado.
"That's what's going to be the main driving factor, I'm going to come back and it's going to be just fine and it's going to be an adventure," she said.
Colorado Public News found some local hospitals offer paid nursing residencies, but the competition is fierce. Children’s Hospital, for example, gets 500 applications a year for 44 slots.
EDITOR'S NOTE: 7NEWS worked with our partners at Colorado Public News for this report.