Some graduate nurses are being pushed into employment with limited support and too much responsibility, while the country is expected to be about 15,000 nurses short by 2035.
Nurses Organisation associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith told Nine to Noon there should be a review of DHB funding that included smaller businesses and NGOs, enabling them to take on newer graduates.
DHBs were struggling to employ new graduates because of funding pressures and budget targets imposed by government, she said.
Some new nurses ended up working without support and with too much responsibility, she said, particularly in the aged care sector.
Last year there were about 1300 Bachelor of Nursing graduates, but by November only half had positions in DHBs or other clinical settings with an official graduate programme offering formal support and mentoring.
Meanwhile, the workforce was dwindling. A report by the Business and Economic Research Group in 2015 showed 50 percent of the nursing workforce was expected to retire by 2035.
It said with ageing populations and an ageing workforce there would be a nursing shortage that would increase to about 15,000 nurses by about 2035.
"What we need actually is a well-rounded approach by all the nursing organisations, the Office of the Chief Nurse and Health Workforce New Zealand to work on a long-term sustainable nursing plan," Ms Graham-Smith said.
Some graduate nurses were receiving limited support with too much responsibility.
"What happens for those who aren't recruited into employment in NETP [Nurse Entry to Practice Programme] and NESP [Nursing Entry to Specialty Practice programmes] is they start looking for work because they are desperate to get clinical experience and they want to be working."
Those programmes placed graduate nurses into a talent pool to gain experience in the workforce, and were intended to provide the necessary support and career development for new nurses to make the transition to being registered nurses, she said.
Graduate nurses had four opportunities to apply for the programmes - shortly before sitting their final exam and again every six months.
However, nurses employed for six months in full-time or part-time work as registered nurses became ineligible for the programme, meaning they missed out on the support systems.
At the end of 2015 there were about 720 applicants for the nursing programmes, with 568 from the November application round plus about 150 from previous application rounds.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it recognised the challenges associated with supporting nurses in their first year of practice and had been working with the sector for five years to improve things for new graduates.
Ms Graham-Smith said most of the programmed applicants would have work by the end of the year, but the problems were around where they were working and what support they would get.
At least one DHB was also offering a 6-8 week volunteer work placement in a hospital without pay.
People in such positions were at risk of not being supported by the DHB in the case of errors, and they had no access to things like sick leave or the employee assistance programme, she said.
"We believe it's not a fair situation. And six weeks - is that really going to be considered adequate experience by an employer?
"Their saving grace is they are required to be members of NZNO, so we would support them."
Still others were not finding work for up to two years, she said, and their clinical practice skills would begin to stagnate.