Nurse shortage: Healthcare organizations pull out all the stops to attract and retain experienced RNs

Three nurses walking down a hospital corridor
Inova Health System offers a five-figure sign-on bonus plus up to $20,000 for relocation costs if nurse candidates with critical care experience live more than 50 miles from one of its six hospitals in the District of Columbia area. (Image: Getty/VILevi)

Sign-on bonuses are a nice perk, but not necessarily enough to recruit nurse these days. So healthcare organizations are trying new ways to attract and retain nurses, not only offering to pay their tuition but also reimbursing college tuition for their children.

This has become the reality for many of the nation’s hospitals as many experienced RNs retire and not enough nurses are in the pipeline to fill those positions. Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job outlook for RNs is good and employment will grow 15% in the next eight years.

Meanwhile, to retain its nurses, UC Health, which has hospitals in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, offers them as much as $4,000 a year to pursue continuing education as well as the opportunity to do a 13-week rotation at their various facilities, reports CNN. Inova Health System will provide nurse candidates with at least two years of critical care experiences a five-figure sign-on bonus plus up to $20,000 for relocation costs if they live more than 50 miles from one of its six hospitals in the District of Columbia area, according to the article.

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And WVU Medicine, which has eight hospitals in West Virginia, plans to offer tuition reimbursement for both long-time employees and their children. "It's for nurses and for all of our staff who've been here for five or more years. We're also extending it for their children to fully cover their college tuition if they go to West Virginia University or partially cover tuition if they go elsewhere," Mary Fanning, director of WVU Medicine nursing administration, told the publication.

In Connecticut, Stamford Health is currently recruiting for approximately 30 open positions. To attract new nurses with nursing degrees, the health system offers a 12-week orientation program that pairs them with experienced mentors in medical or surgical units, according to the Stamford Advocate. And Greenwich Hospital, a part of the Yale New Haven Health System, piloted a 12-month operating room nurse residency program last year. The first five nurses graduated in January.

“It’s an investment in our future,” Melissa Turner, vice president of talent acquisition for the Yale New Haven Health system, told the publication. “The gift of the program is we now have a group of five nurses who are highly skilled and deeply committed to this work in an OR setting. They have a unique perspective and are extremely grateful for that opportunity.”

Collectively, hospitals spend billions to recruit and retain nurses, a 2017 Reuters analysis found, including using the money to pay for travel nurses or looking to hire nurses overseas.

For example, in the Sunshine State, Florida Hospital, which operates 26 hospitals, has turned a natural disaster into an opportunity. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the hospital recruited 45 nurses, medical technologists and nutrition specialists from the island, according to another CNN article.  Its outreach program fast-tracks the hiring process and securing state requirements for the candidates. 

“We're hiring them as quickly as we can find them. It's come one, come all," Karla Muniz, the system's senior director of talent acquisition, told the publication.