Where did all the nurses go?
According to a report by AACN on nursing program enrollment, 73% of employers surveyed expected to have the same or more job openings in 2015. Almost half of employers noted that the most difficult part of recruiting was finding qualified candidates. This has resulted in the nursing profession being the second most critically endangered position in healthcare, following physicians/surgeons.
How can you calm this daunting shortage storm?
The Nursing Shortage in America and Abroad
As the country’s most experienced nurses are turning in their hospital badges and scrubs, a new group of bright-eyed and eager but inexperienced nursing grads are taking their place. Not enough, however.
The demand for experienced nurses is greater than the supply of newly graduated nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 million vocational vacancies are expected for registered nurses (RNs) between 2014 and 2022. And “without the new graduate pipeline,” which is supposed to flow new nurses into retired nurses’ positions with ease, the gap between new nurses and retired nurses (or nurses who leave for other opportunities) widens. In fact, the ratio of older RNs to new graduates is currently four to one. Yikes!
This shortage isn’t just an American issue; it’s a global problem. The gap is reportedly wider in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. However, the causes are slightly different depending on the country in which a shortage is present.
The economy seems to be the time-old scapegoat (and that has usually been a safe bet), but this shortage seems to go a little deeper than that.
3 Biggest Causes of the Nursing Shortage
Demand for varying specialty positions, such as those for intensive care, chronic illnesses, and technology, are on the rise. Experienced nurses understand the plight (they’ve been living the struggle for years), but it’s difficult for them to adjust, and even more difficult for new nurses to adapt.
1. Increased Chronic Illnesses
People are getting older and staying sick for longer. According to The Atlantic’s interview with Professor Julie Sochalski, “People with chronic diseases clearly use more healthcare services, and people who are older have more chronic diseases.” An aging population, retiring nurses, and increased chronic illnesses are “creating the perfect storm driving demand for nurses.”
2. More Nurses Retiring Than Graduating
The nurses bowing out of the medical scene are middle-aged professionals who have been around since the 1970s, making them 40-years-experienced workers and far more experienced than the new nurses. Soon (within the next three years) over half of these experienced nurses will retire. That’s to be expected, though. The issue here is a “brain drain” of sorts. There are a lot of feet coming into the workforce, but apparently not enough to fill all those shoes.
Many companies are reluctant to hire these incoming nurses not only due to the obvious inexperience, but also the subsequent effort training them would involve. With fewer nursing educators (44% of educators are retiring), increased healthcare technology in which both experienced and inexperienced nurses need training, and fewer graduates flowing into retirees’ roles, the future can seem grim.
3. Higher-than-Ever Turnover Rates
It’s a known stereotype that Generation X and Millennials seem to be job-hoppers (which isn’t always true), and nurses are apparently no exception. However, the issue might be universal: today’s employees are as motivated or even more motivated by the culture than the pay. While nurses appreciate the higher salaries being offered in hopes to remedy the shortage, no pay raise in the world could fix a broken workplace culture.
So how do healthcare organizations find the nurses they need when facing such unfavorable odds? We took a look at what tactics are actually working — here are the three that seem to be turning the tide.
3 Innovative Ways to Hire and Retain More Nurses
1. Foster Mentor Relationships Between Experienced and New Nurses
One of the biggest issues here is that the the unbalanced ratio of new nurses to experienced nurses has caused a “brain drain.” Hospitals across the country have reported a collective need for 1 million (and growing) RNs in their facilities.
Instead of switching one nurse for another, some programs have these nurses work side-by-side. They extend the mentorships out of the hospital and kept these nurses in contact before and after rotations begin. This not only adds to these new nurses’ education but also preserves the knowledge from retiring nurses with the new generation.
The Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses launched a mentoring program in 2002 specifically in response to this nursing shortage. It featured mentoring guides and Q&As for nurses everywhere. The website highlights tools which will help you design your perfect mentoring program for your health care facility.
2. Give Nurses More Internal Mobility
Many nurses who leave their companies do so out of boredom, either with co-workers or their job itself. More and more nurses have reported a desire to enter a new healthcare field or speciality. According to AMN Healthcare’s 2015 nurse survey, “Many nurses want to obtain higher degrees and are interested in emerging roles.” 22% reported being unsatisfied with their current role and 30% frequently contemplate quitting.
How can you convince them to stay?
Some companies either let the employee rewrite his or her own job description or change jobs within the same company. Letting employees move careers within the same company not only lets you keep your experience and well-acclimated staff, but it also lets your staff stay in one place in an environment familiar to them with people they know and still get to experience a new field.
3. Improve Your Workplace Culture
Another prevalent reason nurses leave their jobs stems from a dissatisfaction with the workplace culture they live in. This is the same across the board for those infamous millennial “job-hoppers.”
Every workplace has a culture: unique language, differing work hours, behavioral norms, office humor, etc. Pinpoint what your culture is from your employees and your own powers of observation, and be transparent about it to new nurses and candidates.
Paul Spiegelman at INC. Magazine recommends assessing your healthcare facility’s culture through obvious factors, like employees smiling, and not-so-obvious factors, like the vibe of the workplace. Experts stress the importance of a culture that will leave your incoming generation of nurses excited to start their illustrious careers in your company. Here are some tips on strengthening and optimizing your company culture and some additional ideas about having your own nurses and employees recruit for you.
From there, hospitals often define their culture and the benefits of working in the company. Follow a model like UW Health’s — they clearly define for candidates what working for them would be like, including time off, retirement plans, health care benefits, and discounts on health care and transportation.
The Silver Lining
Finally, some good news: Healthcare employment is steadily increasing by hundreds of thousands each year. In order to be a part of these hopeful statistics, bring your experienced and new nurses together to form a coalition of knowledge that will benefit everyone.
Make your workplace more attractive to candidates and connect with a school to better the nursing education. If you want to learn more, the American Sentinel has a helpful blog series about the nursing shortage, what’s causing it, and up-to-date ideas on how to solve it. Follow these tips and you’ll soon be on your way to producing the best staff you’ve ever had.