Nurse Retention Is More Critical Than Ever, Given the Worsening Nurse Shortage

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

To counteract growing nurse shortages, healthcare organizations must get better at keeping their nurses from leaving. In a webinar based on her article, 10 Healthcare Trends to Watch in 2019, Robin L. Rose, MBA, VP, Healthcare Resource Group, HealthStream was joined by HealthStream’s Jim Reeves, Vice President, Strategic Accounts, in a discussion of how we need to focus on encouraging nurses to stay in their jobs.

The Reliance on New Nurses

Rose shared how at any given time in a hospital, 10 to 15% of nursing staff is considered new. With limited on-the-job experience, they are caring for high acuity patients, in many ways for which they are not prepared adequately, and often they’re not supported enough by the people around them. Situations such as this result in current turnover rates from 25% to as high as 60%, with a cost of $40,000 to $60,000 per nurse to replace them.

According to Reeves, even when a healthcare organization’s human resources department is doing a good job with recruiting and hiring nurses, retention of existing staff is often a bigger problem. He has witnessed customers who’ve begun “to take a more holistic look into this problem and what they have to do to try to retain their valuable nursing staff.”

Changing Expectations and an Aging Workforce

Rose mentioned the influx of millennials into the workforce who have different work expectations and how healthcare organizations need to adjust to them. She reminded listeners that nursing has one of the oldest average ages of many professions—“the RN workforce has an average age of 50.” She asks that as a nurse gets older, typically she is going to wonder, “How much longer am I going to want to lift patients out of beds?”

On a positive note, growth in nursing school enrollment has shown positive trends, but it may not be able to keep up with the vacancies that are being created. What’s more alarming is that in 2016, 64,000 qualified nursing school applicants were turned away from educational programs because of shortages of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, and budget.

A Regionalized, Geographic Shortage

The idea of a nursing shortage itself needs to be examined further. Rose offered that it’s really a regional problem, with shortages on or near the coasts, even as the middle of the country has adequate supply. For example, Rose adds, “Arizona is going to have the largest shortage. They need over 28,000 more nurses than they have. Ohio is going to have a 75,000 plus nursing surplus. Some studies say maybe overall, there probably are close to enough nurse. It’s just that they’re not distributed geographically like we need them to be distributed to match the population.”

Download the complete 10 Trends article.