Thousands of student nurses face being left without NHS jobs as trusts impose recruitment freezes because of mounting deficits, nursing leaders have warned.
Students are seeking NHS posts
About 20,000 nurses will graduate this year - and as many as half may struggle to get employment.
Nurses at the Royal College of Nursing conference called for the government to guarantee graduate nurses have roles to go on to - as happens in Scotland.
The government said there were still jobs, but graduates had to be flexible.
RCN general secretary Beverly Malone said it was ¿short-sighted¿ to spend money training nurses and then not have positions to go on to.
The average cost of training a nurse for three years is £100,000.
Ms Malone said: "All these nurses are waiting in the wings. It is very distressing.
"It seems so short-sighted in terms of workforce planning.
"The government is hoping to bring more new nurses in the community but they are cutting off the pipeline."
She added many nurses were approaching retirement age and without them being replaced the country was facing a "time-bomb".
'Such a waste'
Richard Cummins, chairman of the RCN's Association of Nursing Students, said: "There is hellish anxiety about future careers. The problem is only going to get worse and there is a great deal of worry."
He said among his group at the University of Sheffield only seven out of 35 had been offered jobs.
Grant Ciccone, who is in his final weeks at the University of Central England, said he had applied to 50 trusts without success and was now considering an offer from Tesco.
"It seems such as waste of money to spend all this time training us and then have no jobs to go on to."
Mark Waterman, a 34-year-old student nurse at Coventry University, added: "It is very worrying.
"I really wanted to go in to nursing and left a job at a computer software company, thinking that was an end to the rat race. But now hundreds of nurses are going for one position."
But a Department of Health spokeswoman said: "There are still jobs for newly qualified staff in many different areas of the NHS."
However, she added graduates would need to be more "flexible" about where and what they wanted to do.