Healthcare organizations must identify strategies to retain nurses while cultivating a robust pipeline to meet future demands.
Healthcare organizations are continuing to experience lasting impacts from the recent pandemic. While the last few years highlighted the immense value of nurses within our healthcare system, COVID-19 further exacerbated labor shortages within the profession.
To move forward, healthcare must navigate the complexities of these increasing workforce challenges.
In a 2023 survey, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) found that approximately 100,000 registered nurses (RNs) left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic due to stress, burnout, and retirement. Due to the shrinking workforce and growing patient population, an additional 1.2 million new RNs will be needed by 2030.
Given the state of the industry, it is imperative for healthcare organizations to identify meaningful strategies to retain a high-quality nursing workforce while cultivating a robust pipeline to meet future demands.
Retention: Meeting the needs of our nurses now
Hospitals and health systems should consider their competitive advantages when ensuring that nurses remain satisfied with their current employment. Providing competitive benefit packages can be an effective way to engage not only new applicants but help retain existing staff.
According to nurses, the most important factors for overall job satisfaction are regular merit increases, the ability to perform to the full scope of their nursing practice, and tuition reimbursement. Other benefits such as employee housing and loan forgiveness programs can improve job satisfaction and prevent nurses from leaving.
Financial challenges can push many nurses to look for opportunities elsewhere or even seek out travel positions to meet basic financial needs. In 2022, 29% of nurses considered leaving the profession, with many transitioning to less stressful, nontraditional nursing roles that offer higher pay and better work-life balance. In some cases, nurses have left the profession altogether.
Nurses want to work at the top of their licensure, with more than half of healthcare workers expressing interest in upskilling. To improve satisfaction, engagement — and ultimately, retention — healthcare organizations should strongly consider an infrastructure that empowers nurses to grow professionally while also offering continuing education courses.
Healthcare organizations can demonstrate a commitment to their workforce by providing visible career growth pathways and career advancement opportunities. By offering resources for professional development, organizations can provide nurses with the opportunity to take steps toward owning their professional practice and career.
Innovation: Modernizing the workplace
The pandemic pushed healthcare systems to take innovative risks and be more agile. As a result, healthcare organizations embraced technology at a much faster pace and began “thinking outside the box” to navigate numerous disruptions.
Organizations quickly explored new hybrid staffing models to align with the influx of higher-acuity patients due to COVID-19. Innovative staffing models such as a hybrid team-based nursing approach can reduce nurses’ workload, with 58% of hybrid employees reporting less burnout. Staffing models such as these can allow nurses to function at the top of their abilities while promoting safe and effective care.
Flexible scheduling has also become increasingly attractive to help improve work-life balance. Flexibility provides nurses with more autonomy, leading to higher satisfaction. Healthcare organizations that have implemented virtual and flexible work options can improve nurses’ experience, expand career options, and build a model to increase retention.
These innovative approaches can attract high-quality nurses for the long run. Healthcare organizations with a solid infrastructure rooted in high reliability can be agile and more readily pivot to address the needs of their workforce.
By incorporating these new models with what is working well, they can expand efforts to become an “employer of choice” in today’s competitive landscape. It is imperative for healthcare organizations to identify meaningful strategies to retain a high-quality nursing workforce while cultivating a robust pipeline to meet future demands.
Recruitment: Engaging a future generation
This year, an additional 610,388 RNs reported an “intent to leave” the workforce by 2027. More than half of the RN workforce is 50 years or older, and for the first time in 20 years, nursing program enrollment is down.
With the ongoing labor crisis, it is critical for healthcare organizations to adopt community and academic partnerships as part of their overall recruitment strategy.
Establishing partnerships beginning at the high school level can introduce healthcare as a career option early on. Career fairs, volunteering, and job opportunities can be valuable for introducing students to a career path in the field. Organizations can further build relationships with future nurses by creating shadow or mentor programs to instill an interest in healthcare.
In addition, meaningful partnerships with community colleges can assist organizations in forming a workforce pipeline. It is essential for health systems to highlight the various career paths and opportunities in the broader field of healthcare. Organizations can strengthen their community commitment by providing undergraduate students with scholarships, work programs, or loan assistance.
Healthcare organizations have a unique opportunity to show future generations the numerous opportunities in which they can make a difference in their communities and beyond.
Felicia Sadler is vice president of quality at Relias.