Despite tremendous growth in the profession, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be a shortage of one million nurses by 2022. This national nursing shortage is caused in part by the rapidly aging nursing workforce, with nearly 40 percent of registered nurses (RNs) over the age of 50. As the number of nurses reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce each year grows, hospitals and healthcare systems like University of Missouri Health Care (MU Health Care) in Columbia, Mo., are faced with the challenge of recruiting and retaining qualified nurses.
In 2015, MU Health Care began to see a decrease in applications from experienced RNs, which resulted in a rise in the use of temporary staff and, in some cases, an increase in the use of overtime. To address the problem, Peter Callan, director of talent acquisition, turned to recently hired nurses for ideas about how to entice others to work at MU Health Care.
“One of the answers we heard most often was: offer to help with student loan debt,” Peter said. “We also looked outside healthcare to see what other businesses were doing to attract and retain top talent. We quickly identified a trend of companies offering student loan repayment assistance.”
Using this nurse-driven insight, MU Health Care announced a recruitment and retention plan for 2017 to attract RNs, as well as licensed practical nurses (LPNs), surgical technicians, certified medical assistants and genetic counselors, in specific high-volume areas like the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), orthopaedics and neuroscience.
“Most of our departments do not have large vacancy rates,” Peter said. “We looked carefully at our data and identified those few departments that were both growing and traditionally harder to recruit for, such as psychiatry and medicine. We structured our recruiting efforts to target those departments.”
Nurses who work full time (32 hours a week) in one of the targeted units and commit to staying with MU Health Care for five years are eligible for the student loan repayment program made possible through Tuition.io, which is provided on a monthly basis paid directly to the loan principal, up to a maximum of $10,000. For those without student loan debt, a retention reward is offered to qualified applicants, who will receive $2,000 at the end of each year of service up to a total of $10,000. Should a nurse leave the organization, there is no penalty or pay back. In addition to helping to attract new talent, the incentives are also available to nurses and others who already work in those high-volume areas.
Other components of the plan include increasing the rate by $8 an hour for weekend shifts, opening more positions for nurses to work either only weekends or weekdays and introducing a nurse refresher course aimed at those RNs who have been away from the bedside for more than five years who want to return to work.
Emily Collins is a staff nurse on the internal medicine unit at MU Health Care’s University Hospital who is taking advantage of the newly revamped weekend-only work opportunity.
“I love the weekend-days position, which really helps financially," Emily said. "I also have four school-aged kids. During the time I was in college, I missed out on a lot of their school activities. Now I can work and still have Monday through Friday to help them with homework and attend their school functions. It certainly works well for our family.”
Since the initiative kicked off on March 1, 73 RNs have signed up for the loan repayment program, 62 RNs have taken advantage of the retention reward, 219 nurses have signed up to work weekends only and MU Health Care’s turnover rate has dropped to 15.4 percent, which is lower than the national trend.
“By working strategically to recruit talented, experienced nurses, we are able to both meet our patients’ needs today as well as plan for anticipated future growth,” Peter said. “I don’t anticipate we will see a decrease in the nationwide need for qualified nurses anytime soon. However, I believe that those organizations who listen to their current staff and are highly creative when it comes to nurse recruitment can weather the storm.”
For more information on MU Health Care’s recruitment and retention plan, please visit MUHealth.org.