Hiring Nurses During a Staff Shortage

Within the first 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the registered nurse (RN) workforce had plateaued. And by the end of 2021, the total number of nurses had dropped by at least 100,000. Even into 2023, the effects of these changes are still being felt by those hiring nurses.   

Despite this decline, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 194,500 averageannual RN openings between 2020-2030. Plus, the BLS projects a 7% increase in demand for RNs and a staggering 45% increase for advanced practice RNs (APRNs). There’s a massive demand for nurse practitioners, too. In other words, hiring demand is high, and quantity of nurses is low—creating a shortage.  

So, how exactly can hospitals and practices hire nurses when competition is so high?  

Understanding the Shortage  

To make a genuine shift in hiring strategy, it’s vital to understand the conditions that led to the nursing shortage. So first, let’s break it down: 

Leading up to COVID-19  

The beginning of the pandemic isn’t wholly to blame for today’s nursing shortage. Even before March 2020, there were already hiring trends showing a significant discrepancy in the ratio of retirees and entrants to the field.  

On top of that, people are simply living longer these days. With an aging population, the volume of patients was already beginning to outweigh available care even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And once it did begin, it caused a domino effect in the healthcare industry—only worsening existing challenges. 

Early Retirements with Limited Replacements

Many attribute the nursing shortage to RNs older than age 50 retiring—which is partially true, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.  

Through 2021, there was a 4% reduction of nurses under 35, and only 1% among nurses older than age 50. It is true that nurses who were approaching the age of retirement opted to leave the field several years ahead of time, rather than work through the pandemic. However, the main issue with this trend was that young nurses were leaving too, and new talent wasn’t coming to replace them. (Some of this has been assuaged by nurses who were unretiring, but that cannot be expected to solve the shortfall.)

Burnout and Turnover

The sudden spike in demand, coupled with thinning healthcare faculties, led to the overuse of remaining nurses. To cover weak spots and tend to a record high influx of patients, nurses were working longer hours and extra shifts with little to no support from their healthcare systems. All of this caused high levels of burnout and frustration persisting today, as nurses and hospitals alike are dealing with long-term side effects of burnout such as high turnover.  

Pandemic fatigue has led to high amounts of attrition among nurses—and that attrition is cyclical. Because when nurses quit in large volume, it only deepens the burnout among those who stay, as their workload increases even further. Without hiring new nurses, that can cause even more faculty to quit, leaving their workload unattended, and…you can see the pattern forming here.   

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Tips for Hiring Nurses 

Attracting nurses in this shortage largely comes down to what employers are offering. Here’s a list of what nursing candidates are searching for: 

Work-life Balance 

As we pointed out, the key to hiring during a shortage is acknowledging pain points and finding ways to counteract them. Burnout is one of the most often cited symptoms of the pandemic—and many nurses attribute this to a lack of work-life balance. 

A simple way to promote work-life balance? Providing faculty with flexibility and paid time off. This includes general PTO, as well as holidays and sick leave.  

Childcare and Family Support 

In line with the previous tips, childcare and family support can improve work-life balance exponentially. It’s also one of the most desired benefits among nursing candidates. 

There’s a surplus of nurses who are working parents or are supporting a family member. With 12 hours shifts, it can be difficult to balance those responsibilities. It’s understandable that flexibility is limited within existing healthcare structures, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to support working parents. 

Offering child or adult care—onsite or via stipend for offsite providers—is a great way to show your nursing staff that you care, and they’re supported. 

Training, Development, and Career Advancement 

Stemming from a lack of faculty, nurses have expressed frustration over lack of training after accepting new roles.  

Knowledge and skills among nurses are highly transferrable, and even applicable across certain specialties. However, too many employers assume this means nurses can jump into a new specialty without any training or onboarding. This contributes to the feeling many nurses are experiencing—that they’re just a number.  

Nurses are attracted to positions where they know they’ll have tools for success like training and mentorship 

Sign-on Bonuses 

As you’re probably aware, the competition for hiring nurses is steep right now. Sign-on bonuses are an effective way to attract candidates with competing and comparable offers.    

Mental Health 

Even with premiere benefits and a supportive work environment, working in healthcare can take a toll. Nursing is a tough, high-stress profession. It can be demanding—physically, mentally, and emotionally—and there’s a lot on the line when it comes to their performance.  

That’s why it’s vital for nurses and healthcare professionals to have access to resources that can help them process these feelings, whenever they need to. Offering this to candidates is appealing because it shows them that you’re investing in their health and valuing them as people.    

Retaining Nurses  

Hiring is only half the battle. With high turnover being a driving force behind the nursing shortage, it’s critical to consider how you intend to retain talent. 

Appreciation Incentives 

Everyone appreciates a little recognition and gratitude—and consistently doing this for your nurses can go a long way. It’s encouraging, affirming, and a major morale booster that’s sure to keep them engaged long-term. Just be sure that the appreciation incentives go beyond surface level treats, such as pizza parties or a social media shoutout.   

Appreciation incentives are especially valuable in retaining long-term, existing members of your faculty. In the process of attracting new nurses, don’t lose sight of the ones you already have—let them know how much you value their commitment and contributions. Performance bonuses, training opportunities, and sponsoring certifications are all great ways to achieve this. 

Community and Culture  

This is especially important for attracting new entrants to the field. Many young nurses are looking for workplace culture that promotes wellbeing and connects them to one another, as part of a larger nursing community.  

Nurses are also searching for workplace culture that embraces their input and values their perspective. Setting up an ambassador program for nurses to express their needs, concerns, and ideas to higher management is an effective way of ensuring they feel heard and respected.  

People First  

Put simply, nurses want to work where they’re treated like people. Offering benefits during the hiring process such as flexibility, child or adult care, mental health resources, and embracing a supportive culture is sure to attract top talent to your healthcare faculty.  

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