Growing RN vacancies in Florida signal a 'nursing shortage tsunami'

The looming nursing shortage and questions about just how severe it's going to be continues to prompt concern among hospital leaders and healthcare industry watchers.

In Florida, the number of unfilled positions for registered nurses grew nearly 30 percent between 2013 and 2015, to about 12,500, according to a report from the Florida Center for Nursing. Hospitals had the bulk of the vacancies. Meanwhile, the center said organizations expect to create nearly 10,000 new RN positions.

Retirements are an issue, too, with baby-boomer nurses retiring just as the crush of aging baby boomers need more healthcare. By 2030 one in five Americans will be a senior citizen, as The Atlantic reported. Already there are more Americans 65 and older than at any time in U.S. history, the magazine reported, many of them with chronic conditions that require medical care.

"We're entering turbulent waters," Dianne Morrison-Beedy, dean of the University of South Florida College of Nursing, told the Tampa Bay Times. "It's no longer like a tide coming in. It's a nursing shortage tsunami."

Officials at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida expect 40 percent of their nurses to retire in the next 10 years, WTSP-TV reported.

The jobs they hold--positions for RNs with experience or advanced education--are the most difficult to fill, according to the Florida nursing report. At the same time, Florida nursing schools say their students aren't able to get the clinical experience they need at hospitals and other medical facilities, according to WTSP.

Nursing schools turn away tens of thousands of qualified applicants each year for four-year and graduate nursing programs because of capacity issues, The Atlantic noted, citing an American Association of Colleges of Nursing report. Faculty members also are nearing retirement age.

"Nursing shortages are cyclic," B.J. Whiffen, dean of nursing at Missouri's Southeast Hospital College of Nursing and Health Sciences, told the Southeast Missourian. "I've been a nurse for 31 years, and I've seen it many times. But this one is a little different."

Southeast Hospital is particularly feeling the pinch among critical care nurses, according to the newspaper. The hospital has increased its signing bonus for experienced critical care nurse and offers training to graduate nurses interested in transitioning into critical care.

For its part, Mission Health in Asheville, North Carolina, is offering signing bonuses that in some cases require nurses to commit to a minimum length of stay, FierceHealthcare recently reported. Other hospitals offer tuition reimbursement and bonuses for specialty certifications.

Hospitals like Brandon Regional Hospital in Florida are using nurse residency programs to give new nurses intensive training in specialty care areas. The nurses agree to remain at the hospital for at least two years, helping resolve critical staffing issues.

To learn more:
- download the nursing report
- here's the Tampa Bay Times article
- readThe Atlantic article
- here's the WTSP-TV report
- check out the Southeast Missourian article