Nursing Industry Desperate To Find New Hires

Please, please accept a high-paying job with us. In fact, just swing by for an interview and we'll give you a chance to win cash and prizes.

Sounds too good to be true, especially in an economy riddled with job cuts in nearly every industry. But applicants for nursing jobs are still so scarce that recruiters have been forced to get increasingly inventive.

One Michigan company literally rolled out a red carpet at a recent hiring event. Residential Home Health, which provides in-home nursing for seniors on Medicare, lavished registered nurses and other health care workers with free champagne and a trivia contest hosted by game-show veteran Chuck Woolery. Prizes included a one-year lease for a 2009 SUV, hotel stays and dinners.

"We're committed to finding ways to creatively engage with passive job seekers," said David Curtis, president of the Madison Heights-based company.

Recruiters like Curtis may have little choice. The long-standing U.S. nurse shortage has led to chronic understaffing that can threaten patient care and nurses' job satisfaction, and the problem is expected to worsen.

The shortage has been operating since World War II on an eight- to 10-year cycle, industry experts say. Each time the number of nurses reaches a critical low, the government adds funding and hospitals upgrade working conditions. But as the deficit eases, those retention efforts fade and eventually the old conditions return, often driving nurses into other professions.

"We recently had a hiring event where, for experienced nurses to interview — just to interview — we gave them $50 gas cards," said Tom Zinda, the director of recruitment at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in the Milwaukee-area city of Glendale. "We really try to get as creative as we can. It's a tough position to fill."

Recruiters across the country have tried similar techniques, offering chair massages, lavish catering and contests for flat-screen TVs, GPS devices and shopping sprees worth as much as $1,000.

Even strong salaries aren't doing the trick. Registered nurses made an average of $62,480 in 2007, ranging from a mean of $78,550 in California to $49,140 in Iowa, according to government statistics. Including overtime, usually abundantly available, the most experienced nurses can earn more than $100,000.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts about 233,000 additional jobs will open for registered nurses each year through 2016, on top of about 2.5 million existing positions. But only about 200,000 candidates passed the Registered Nurse licensing exam last year, and thousands of nurses leave the profession each year.

Several factors are in play: a lack of qualified instructors to staff training programs, lack of funding for training programs, difficult working conditions and the need for expertise in many key nursing positions.

Cheryl Peterson, the director of nursing practice and policy for the American Nurses Association in Silver Spring, Md., said employers must raise salaries and improve working conditions.

"The wages haven't kept up with the level of responsibility and accountability nurses have," said Peterson, whose organization represents nurses' interests. Chronic understaffing means nurses are overworked, she said, and as burned-out nurses leave the situation spirals for the colleagues they leave behind.

Some hospital departments where experience is vital, such as the emergency room or intensive-care unit, simply cannot hire newly minted nurses. So managers in those areas have even fewer staffing choices.

Nurses qualified to teach aspiring nurses are scarce chiefly because they can make at least 20 percent more working at a hospital, experts said.

"It can be hard to turn down that extra money," said Robert Rosseter, the associate executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in Washington, D.C.

Many recruiters have looked for employees overseas, and about one-fourth of the nurses who earned their licenses in 2007 were educated internationally, most in the Philippines and India.

Some health organizations go out of their way to recruit as many nurses as possible even when they're overstaffed.

Residential Home Health, the home-nursing company in Michigan, is always looking to hire, Curtis said. Even with 375 clinical professionals on staff, his recruiters are eager to sign up as many as 50 more nurses and therapists, hence the Chuck Woolery event.

Zinda, the Milwaukee-area recruiter, said creative recruiting helps to introduce nurses to his hospital. Besides offering interviewees $50 gas cards, he has provided $100 gift cards to the local mall, and created a Facebook page to target younger nurses.

Attracting good candidates is about offering good working conditions, he said, but creative recruiting goes a long way in generating a buzz.

"Bottom line, you need to get people excited about what you're offering," he said. "If you don't, they can easily go elsewhere."

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  • by starrysmile on Jan 8, 2009 at 06:54 AM
    Anonymous ER Nurse, I'm really glad that you love your job. You must work for an exceptional hospital. As for doing it for the money, I don't know any nurses who do this job just for the money! We are not martyrs. We have bills to pay, families to support, and we live in the same bad economy as everyone else who is trying to make ends meet. To "Unbelievable"...walk a mile in a nurses' shoes before you accuse us of "whining"...
  • by Anonymous on Jan 7, 2009 at 05:57 PM
    i am an ER nurse and i love my job, if you do it for the money you're in it for the wrong reason
  • by nc nurse Location: kinston on Jan 7, 2009 at 10:55 AM
    to unbelievable, until you know what we put up with everyday, don't assume you know and can tell us what to do. I would like to know where any nurses you know work and have 4 days off? unless its that they work 12 hour shifts, no breaks, tons of paperwork that never gets caught up, and don't forget, we work every holiday, and are on call on our days off! That's not even going into the patients themselves or the families who think they are our only patient and who we have to spend twice as much time as they need so they will quit whining and complaining or the insurance case manager who needs to go over every word we have charted, or a pharmacy who needs clarification on an order, or the doctors who demand our time. We are over worked, UNDER paid for the work we do, and rarely thanked. But, that is ok. Because we do it because we do care about our patients and if whining is what we do to get by, you can get over it and be glad we don't leave this profession, or who would look after you?
  • by RN Instructor Location: Washington, NC on Jan 7, 2009 at 08:38 AM
    We admit the number of students that we can handle. There are only so many instructors. These students have a certain number of classroom and clinical hours they have to complete. Instructors are needed for both. In the clinical situation, you have 1 instructor that is responsible for 7 or more students and these students are working off of that instructors license. This means that the instructor is responsible for the actions of each student, right or wrong. Ideally, to give the students the best clinical and learing experience, the instructor should not have that many students. The students have to have the instructor with them to complete any invasive task. Meds have to be checked with the instructor before given. Then the instructor has to go with that student to pass those meds. Nursing school is tough. You have to maintain a certain GPA to get in and stay in. Not all we admit will pass. Remember, the students of today will care for you and yours in the future.
  • by Leigh Location: Chocowinity on Jan 7, 2009 at 08:12 AM
    Sorry, ran out of room. The RN's, LPN's and assistants being the ones that suffer most. 12 hour shifts, on your feet all day, forget a lunch break most days. The amount of paper work is unbelievable. I went to school to take care of people, not paperwork. When we changed to computers, we were told that it would improve pt care, leaving us more time to care for our pts. I'd love to know what planet they thought that up on. Our patient care has suffered tremendously since our computer charting started. Meds that were once passed in an hour or so for 6 pts now may take twice as long due to scanning the med, the armband, your badge. I understand the safety reasons behind that, but, come on administration, there has got to be a better way. This is where the ones that sit behind the desk and make all these decisions need to work out on the floors for a while. Most don't have any idea what pt care consists of. I do love nursing, I just wish I had more time to nurse.
  • by Leigh Location: Chocowinity on Jan 7, 2009 at 08:05 AM
    Starrysmile, I agree with you completely. I have been an RN for 12 yrs. All my experience since graduating has been in 2 local hospitals. Anyone who thinks nursing is a glamorous job is crazy. Don't get me wrong, I love nursing. It's the other "things" we have to deal with that I don't like. We have family members that think their person is the only patient we have. Most staff nurses have as many as 7 pts during the day and more at night. Most of these are total care pts that require a great deal of care, feeding, bathing, turning. We have irate doctors that think you are there at their beck and call, some even ask you to do the dialing for their telephone calls. I even had one doctor that stood over me while I was taking off orders and charting, tapping his fingers on the counter, finally tell (not ask) me to get up so he could sit with his one chart. Most hospitals are concentrating on "the bottom" line. Operating with as little expense as possible.
  • by Unbelievable Location: NC on Jan 7, 2009 at 07:58 AM
    Listen to all this whining, moaning and complaining! Nurses are very well paid compared to other people with similar or more education, and have excellent benefits, and OUGHT TO BE GLAD THEY ARE PAID SO HIGH AND HAVE SUCH BENEFITS! Their jobs, for the most part, are secure and will be secure, and nurses OUGHT TO BE GLAD FOR THAT JOB SECURITY! Any job in which a girl barely out of high-school with a two-year degree can immediately start making a wage well above what most workers in NC make, WITH FULL BENEFITS AND RETIREMENT, is a pretty good job. I'm sick of all this crying and weeping. If you don't want to do the work, get out of the profession and let someone have the job who will BE GRATEFUL for the opportunity. Whoever heard of wet-behind-the-ears graduates, green as grass and brand new, pulling down well over thirty grand with benefits, retirement and four days off at a time? Get real! If you lived in reality, you'd have something to complain about! Give working folks a break!
  • by Rn Location: Greenville on Jan 7, 2009 at 07:48 AM
    Not Trying to scare anyone just trying tell it the way it is
  • by Student Location: NC on Jan 7, 2009 at 06:43 AM
    Wow. I recently decided to change my major from teaching to nursing, and now, after reading all of your comments, you have me scared.
  • by None Location: NC on Jan 7, 2009 at 06:04 AM
    If they need nurses so bad then why don't they admit more students into programs every year and change some of the requirements!
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