RCN Scotland has said policies such as freezing posts and not replacing people who leave mean newly qualified nurses and midwives are struggling to find jobs in the NHS.
The union has warned “unsustainable tactics” are being used by health chiefs struggling to cut costs, and called for more to be done to protect frontline services.
It added the decisions could have “devastating consequences” for patient care in the future.
However, she said there would be no compulsory redundancies and expressed confidence that patient care would not be affected.
Associate director of RCN Scotland, Ellen Hudson, has voiced her concerns about the impact of any cuts on people trying to start a career in nursing.
She told Scotland on Sunday: “To save money, many health boards are focusing on the nursing wages bill and are using unsustainable tactics, such as freezing posts, not replacing registered nurses when they leave or retire and converting vacant registered nurse posts to a lower grade so that they cost less. This has resulted in far fewer employment opportunities for newly qualified nurses.”
Ms Hudson also questioned whether a scheme which offers new nurses a one-year NHS job guarantee after they qualify would be able to continue in the current financial climate.
She added: “The nursing workforce in Scotland is ageing and we are losing the skills and experience of older nurses who are retiring. If we do not replace them with new registered nurses this could have devastating consequences for the future of patient care in Scotland.”
The Royal College of Midwives Scotland also spoke of similar concerns and suggested that there may soon be no jobs at all for newly-qualified midwives.