Nursing Shortage Hits Texas Hospitals Hard


AUSTIN - Hardly a day goes by that she doesn't get letters, emails, or calls from headhunters all offering better jobs, more money, big signing bonuses and flexible scheduling.

She says it's nice to feel wanted, but the aggressive recruiting tactics by some hospitals dramatize a national staffing shortage so severe that it could leave many hospitals postponing
surgeries, mismanaging patients, and eventually closing down.

Sue, a RN and hospital recruiter says she's seen nursing shortages before.  "But never like this one.  It just keeps going and going."

The nearly 78 million U.S. baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are expected to put
huge demands on a hospital system that's already severely short-staffed.

Meanwhile, in the past two decades, the number of people choosing a nursing career has declined.  Meaning an aging nursing population.

Some experts predict that in the next two decades, members of the largest group of RNs will be between 50 and 67.

Without aggressive intervention, by 2020 the nation is expected to see nursing shortages as high as 800,000 nurses, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on major healthcare issues.

But even as hospitals face shortages, U.S. nursing schools turned away over 42,000 qualified applicants to baccalaureate and graduate programs because there simply wasn't enough classroom space or nursing teachers to train them.

One nursing school admitted only 110 students from a pool of 760 applicants.

Trade groups in Texas, including the Texas Hospital Association, are throwing their support behind proposed bills that would seek funding to allow nursing schools to increase enrollment.

Texas has a projected need for 9,700 graduates for the academic year 2009-2010, a 46% increase compared with 2005-2006. 

Also, groups are pushing to increase the state funding to raise the average nursing faculty salary by $10,000 to make the pay competitive with the private sector.

In February, state Senator Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, filed the Nursing Shortage Reduction Act, which would double the capacity of nursing schools in five years from 5,000 to 10,000.

The legislation also includes financial incentives for applicants who seek master's or doctoral degrees who plan to teach nursing in Texas.

The nursing school plans to increase the number of students by going to a semi-annual type of enrollment in 2009, which would allow it to admit 80 students at a time, or 160 a year.

For their part, hospitals are sweetening the pot for nurses by offering more pay, flexible scheduling, attractive retirement plans, continuing education, experienced-based pay and tuition reimbursement.

They also offer financial bonuses for referrals.  These start at $1,500.

But work force shortages are also driving up the labor costs for hospitals forced to make salaries more competitive.

The annual salary for the new graduate registered nurse is $49,000, compared to $40,000 six years ago, a 21% increase.

Some area hospitals are turning away from signing bonuses and focusing in on efforts to retain nurses.  These may include referral bonuses, rewards for time worked, as well as their personal contributions.

The hospitals also provides tuition assistance for continuing education.

And there are other perks meant just to retain staff.  The hospital provides birthday cards, luncheons, dinners, movies, and, for a minimum fee, car washes.

As far as compensation and incentives, nurses never had it so good.

"It's just an incredible time to be a nurse," says one nurse, glowing.

Still, the nursing shortage isn't good for anyone.  Nurses, working 12-hour shifts to make up for the shortages, are exhausted and stressed, according to studies.

Nursing is not easy work.  "There's lifting patients and being on your feet 12 hours a day.  The staffing shortage is compounding it," said another nurse.

According to one nurse, who requested anonymity, the shortage of nurses educated at the baccalaureate level could be affecting patient care.

About 42% of the public and more than one-third of U.S. doctors reported that they or family members have experienced medical errors, according to a 2002 survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kaiser Family Foundation.  The survey was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The shortage is inspiring some to cross a line.  One nurse, while visiting old friends at another hospital, tried to recruit them.  A move one medical official called "unethical".

The reply was, "the stakes are high...we're all in the same boat, competing for the same talent pool."


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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