Overqualification and underemployment for nursing graduates in Australia: A retrospective observational study

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Nursing Studies




School of Nursing and Midwifery




Li, I. W., Duffield, C., & Doleman, G. (2022). Overqualification and underemployment for nursing graduates in Australia: A retrospective observational study. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 136, Article 104376. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2022.104376


Background: Workforce planning is crucial in maintaining balance between demand and supply of the nursing workforce. However, policies to boost nursing workforce supply such as increasing the number of nursing students need to be considered in conjunction with the capacity of the health care system to absorb nursing graduates into the workforce. Objective: To 1) examine the absorption of nursing graduates into the workforce in Australia 2) examine the proportion in full-time employment, graduate salaries, perception of overqualification and underemployment. Design: A retrospective, observational design was used. Data were drawn from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 waves of a national, longitudinal survey conducted at six months and three years after graduation for nursing graduates from Australian universities. Participants: The study sample is restricted to domestic graduates who have completed an undergraduate degree in the field of nursing (excluding midwifery). The study sample consists of 4250 graduate nurses. Methods: The study adopted a descriptive analysis approach, with means and standard deviations estimated. Overqualification was measured in the graduate survey using eight questions of Perceived Overqualification. Respondents with a mean scale score of 3.5 or above were classed as being overqualified. Underemployment was measured through self-assessment, with participants considered underemployed if they were employed part-time and indicating that they were seeking full-time work. Results: Almost two-thirds of graduates worked as registered nurses at six months post-graduation, increasing to 80 % at three years. Graduate oversupply could be a potential issue, particularly in the short-term, post-graduation. Non-registered nurses reported higher salaries than registered nurses. Underemployment was found to be 8 % at six months, declining to 3 % at three years, and was higher for those not working as registered nurses. The majority of those working part-time do so voluntarily due to the desire for work-life balance. Overqualification was relatively low for those working as registered nurses compared to those employed in non-nursing roles. Job supply and employment factors, such as the lack of suitable jobs in local areas or the intention to change jobs and careers subsequently, were found to be the main drivers of overqualification in nursing graduates. Conclusions: The findings from the present study point to strong employment prospects for nursing graduates in Australia. Overqualification and underemployment occur in moderate proportions for nursing graduates but are however relatively low in comparison to those reported for graduates from other fields.



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