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5 Creative Solutions for the Nursing Shortage

The need for healthcare within the United States is growing as the Baby Boomers grow older. Compounding this problem is the fact that nurses in the Baby Boomers generation are starting to retire. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of available nursing jobs is expected to grow by about 16% by 2024. With the number of nurses expected to leave the workforce in the next few years, it’s projected that there will be more than 1 million unfilled job openings for nurses by 2024.

For nurse executives, the nursing shortage is a worrisome trend. The shortage makes it difficult to run a profitable medical facility while balancing patient care and creating a good work culture that encourages employee retention. Many of the macro trends and solutions for the nursing shortage, such as increasing financial aid for nursing students, and addressing legal barriers that prevent phased retirement, are outside of the control of today’s nurse leaders. However, there are creative solutions that can be employed to help hospitals recruit and retain their nurses. Here’s a look at some creative solutions that nurse leaders can begin using to address today’s nursing shortage.


Solution #1 – Use an Onboarding Program to Make New Nurses Feel Welcome

Studies and surveys show that community, group cohesion, and nurse autonomy reduce employee turnover among nurses, and nurses who feel they have a sense of community at work report higher levels of job satisfaction. When hospitals bring in new nurses, making these nurses feel welcome with an onboarding program can help encourage employee retention. A good onboarding program can ease new nurses into the job so they’re less overwhelmed in the first few weeks at a new job. A good example is to avoid assigning new nurses to problem patients right away. Another example is to consider events that help new nurses get to know current nurses to encourage a sense of community. Nurses that feel like they are welcome and part of a community not only stick with the job, they’re more likely to bring along their friends.

For new nurses who are also new graduates, a nurse residency program may prove helpful, making it easier for new graduates to transition from being a student nurse to dealing with the responsibilities of being a nurse. This offers mentorship for new graduates by combining new nurses with experienced nurses so they spend time caring for patients together before being release to practice alone. This helps to reduce turnover rates among first-year nurses and also provides an atmosphere in which valuable peer groups are formed.


Solution #2 – Incentivize Behaviors You Want from Your Nurses

Provide incentives to encourage behaviors you want to see from your nurses. For example, consider having a points system that gives points for picking up bad shifts, taking extra shifts, or learning new skills. Points could be used to buy special prizes or they could be used to help nurses increase their pay scale over time. This makes it easier to staff even the unpopular shifts in a way that keeps nurses happy. However, while offering incentives for the behaviors you want to see can aid in employee retention. Strategies for Nurse Managers notes that it’s important to avoid incentivizing unhealthy behavior. Perfect attendance incentives, for example, may make nurses come in on days they are sick or not fit to work, compromising patient care.


Solution #3 – Invest in Long-term Training and Professional Development

Medical facilities that want to keep nurses on staff should invest in long-term training and professional development for nurses. A recent publication by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests that institutions should commit to lifelong learning in nurses. As nurses are promoted into innovative and managerial positions, they’ll require new knowledge and skills, and employers can provide nurses with training through distance learning, self-tutorials, on-site classes, and more. However, instead of front loading all the training within the first few months after employment, which can be a waste if a nurse leaves, spreading out the training and saving more expensive training endeavors and fun training for senior nurses can save money and boost retention.


Solution #4 – Convert Current Nurses into Recruiters and Compensate for Referrals

In an interview with Career Builder, the vice president of executive recruitment and talent selection for Mercy mentioned converting current nurses into talent scouts and recruiters. Nurses speak the language of nurses, and they know what issues are most important to other nurses. Offering incentives for referrals, such as monetary compensation, can encourage current nurses in your work force to bring in other nurses.


Solution #5 – Offer Altered Schedules to Accommodate the Personal and Professional Needs of Nurses

Achieving and maintaining a personal and professional life balance is often difficult for nurses, and nurse leaders can improve nurse recruitment and retention by offering altered schedules for nurses that better accommodate both their personal and professional needs. For example, for busy mothers who want to spend as much time as possible with their children, hospitals like Cleveland Clinic are offering special “mom shifts,” which run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and in some cases, nurses’ positions are made available that offer summers off when mothers can be with their children. Offering nurses the ability to choose part-time shifts, eight-hour shifts, and 12-hour shifts can better accommodate the unique needs of nurses. More flexibility in shift lengths and start times can give nurses the flexibility to choose options best for their personal obligations ensures they’re happier with their work life balance, promoting greater satisfaction and wellness.

Although drastic policy changes and developments are needed on a large scale to deal with the continuing nursing shortage, facilities can begin adopting unique and innovative approaches to recruitment and retention to find workable solutions to this problem. Nursing leaders can lead the way by instituting initiatives and programs that can stall the shortage momentum, reducing the effects of shortages on patient care and facility profits.


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