Efforts to recruit nurses by offering such perks as sign-on bonuses, higher salaries and better college programs appear to be easing staffing shortages, albeit slightly, in some states, according to reports.
The nursing shortage, deemed a crisis by many state hospital associations, is letting up in Florida as the number of registered nurse vacancies dropped from nearly 16% in 2001 to 12.5% in 2002, the Florida Hospital Association reported.
"We have spent a lot of time talking to nurses, recruiters, nurse executives, and it has paid off," said Richard Rasmussen, vice president of legal affairs at the FHA. "We tried to elevate the profile of nurses and highlight careers in nursing."
Still, the state is struggling with vacancies and reports that one in eight registered nurse positions, or 8,660, remain vacant at hospitals, according to 68 hospitals surveyed in Florida. By 2020, the FHA estimates there will be 61,000 nurse vacancies.
The use of sign-on bonuses and the recruitment of foreign nurses helped reduce nursing job vacancies in 2002, Rasmussen said. In Florida, 93% of the hospitals surveyed offered signing bonuses to all registered nurses. Nearly 80% of all new nurses received bonuses of $1,000 to $4,000, while 16% saw bonuses of $5,000 to $9,000.
Florida hospitals hired 461 foreign nurses in 2001 from Canada, England, Ireland, the Philippines and Puerto Rico, according to the survey.
The FHA is hoping the vacancy rate improves next year, too, Rasmussen said. The hospital association worked with legislators this year to eliminate the review process for out-of-state nurses. Nurses who apply for Florida jobs now must show they passed a national nursing exam and an FBI background screening and must have no disciplinary actions on their records. Previously, the board of nursing reviewed every undergraduate course taken by job seekers, a timely process that deterred applicants.
Also, the state Legislature approved a measure allowing academic-nursing programs to expand based on need, instead of applying to the board of nursing, Rasmussen said. "We have to work even harder," he said. "The demographics are working against us."
The trend is not confined to the Sunshine State. Officials in Wisconsin are pointing to better nursing programs at community colleges and higher salaries behind a vacancy rate that remained steady at about 6% from 2000 to 2001, the latest statistics available from the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
"We are not declaring victory," said Steve Brenton, president and chief executive officer of the WHA. "There is a sense that (the workforce shortage issue) has peaked. We are , but we have a ways to go."
Brenton said starting salaries of about $40,000 and new community college programs for nursing students have helped prevent vacancy rates from rising in his state. But he knows hospitals cannot become complacent.
"Just because it isn't getting worse doesn't mean it is fixed," Brenton said. "We must improve the environment so they stay in the profession."