What the 'retirement wave' means for nursing

Even nurses with little experience are being recruited heavily

Increased demand for nurses is forcing some employers to compete more fiercely for talent by offering higher salaries, signing bonuses, and more—but the trends vary by region, Melanie Evans reports for the Wall Street Journal.

According to Evans, the last nursing shortage ended more than a decade ago "when a surge of nursing graduates filled many positions, and the financial crisis of 2008 led older nurses to delay retirement." But the labor market for nurses is beginning to tighten again as higher insurance rates are increasing the demand for health care services and an improved economy is leading more nurses to retire.

"We're having a retirement wave," Jane Englebright, SVP and CNO at HCA, told the Journal.

Nationally, enough new nursing students have graduated to replace retiring nurses, Evans reports. But in regional pockets, the labor force is being strained.

To recruit nurses, some hospitals dangle a Hawaiian vacation—but there are easier tactics, too

According to hospital operators in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nebraska , "the proliferation of new nursing jobs outside of hospitals has helped strain supply," Evans writes. In Texas, population growth is at fault. And Peter Buerhaus, a health care economist and nursing professor at Montana State University, said some experts are forecasting shortages in New England and along the West Coast.

Searching for talent

That means some hospitals are spending more to hire and retain nurses, affecting their bottom lines. Labor experts say signing bonuses are on the rise in markets such as Texas, California, and Florida.

Joanne Spetz, an economist and University of California San Francisco nursing professor, said that signing bonuses were "back with a vengeance." About 2.5 percent of nursing jobs listed on Indeed.com in September offered signing bonuses, up from 0.5 percent in 2013.

For instance, Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System is now offering nurses with one year of experience $15,000 signing bonuses, Evans reports. Julene Campion, Geisinger's VP of talent management, said the system also encourages existing nurses to reach out to candidates on social media to help recruit them. "We think we've piqued some interest," she said (Evans, Wall Street Journal, 11/7).

Why you're in danger of building the wrong workforce

To succeed in the future, health care organizations will need to provide care in the lowest-cost, most appropriate setting—and to accomplish this, they’ll need a different complement of staff than in the past.

But if today's leaders don't revise their workforce planning strategy, they're in danger of building the wrong workforce, a mistake that will be costly in the long run and could take 10 to 12 years to correct.

Find out what you need to do to revise your approach—starting from the "outside-in."


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