Renown, a hospital that treats hundreds of patients every day, recently hired about 65 nurses, one of many hires that make Nevada’s nursing shortage appear leaner.
In December 2009, workforce analysts with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that more than 581,500 new registered nurse positions will be created through 2018, which would increase the size of the nursing workforce by 22 percent. In addition, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that nursing school graduates are increasing.
According to Jen Richards, Renown Health director of nursing education and research, local nursing schools have just about doubled their enrollment in recent years.
The AACN reported a 3.6 percent enrollment increase in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing in 2008. According to the BLS, this means nursing employment is expected to grow much faster than average.
However, local hospitals and research scientists are claiming the decrease in the shortage is just a ruse.
“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the nursing shortage has been reduced or gone away,” said John Packham, director of health policy research for the University of Nevada School of Medicine. “I really don’t like to say that the nursing shortage is over. There is still a lot of demand. The need doesn’t go away but the supply does.”
According to Packham, the throngs of nurses who are just graduating could face tough competition from older, established nurses who are either holding on to or restarting their jobs because of a rough economy.
“The average age of a nurse is 50-plus,” Packham said. “We are seeing the re-entry of older nurses into the workforce because their spouse has possibly become unemployed or underemployed. … The deeper the recession gets, the more this re-entry will take place.”
Fresh from educating and welcoming the new group of nurses, Richards, agrees that the shortage is far from over.
“From the outside view, it does not look like there is much of a nursing shortage now,” Richards said. “However, there is going to be a big shortage in the future.”
Renown currently employs about 1,300 nurses in its health system and hires periodically with an emphasis on local graduates.
“We would never want to discourage nurses with experience from coming in,” she said. “However, they have to be a good blend.”
Crunching nursing’s numbers
Packham has published or contributed to more than 40 studies and surveys on Nevada’s health care workforce. Currently, he is considering the publication of a supply-and-demand study specifically addressing Nevada’s nursing shortage.
The most recent of Packham’s contributions to the topic was a study done in 2005. He and others concluded that Nevada not only had an aging nursing workforce, but also found about 8.3 percent of the nursing population either is not working or retired.
“It (getting a nursing job right out of school) might be harder than it has been because of what we’ve seen,” Richards said. “We get a lot of nursing students (applying) who are in their second careers.”
Richards added that the new nursing hires in northern Nevada were not only young graduates.
“We see quite a varied group in terms of generation,” Richards said.
Packham added that the anecdotes that lessen the blow of a nursing shortage now will compound the problem when nurses start to retire.
“The very nature of a shortage means that there is much more demand than supply,” Packham said. “The second the economy improves, the gap is going to widen.”
The local perspective
In the meantime, Renown is putting forth a plan that focuses on hiring local nurses to contribute to the local economy.
Of the nurses that Renown recently took on in its last round of hiring, about 75 percent were graduates of local schools and programs.
“We have done a lot of work to take in nurses from local school sites for clinical rotations,” Richards said. “The majority of nurses (recently hired) are newly graduated nurses mostly hired from local schools.”
According to Richards, the nurses they need are familiar with Renown. Thus, they have a head start on employment there.
“Most of these students have spent time at Renown (during their schooling),” Richards said. “They know that this is a place that they want to be. Not only that, but they are vested in what they are doing.”
Employee longevity also factors in to Renown’s reasons for hiring local nurses.
“They live here in this community,” Richards said. “They do not come there, then want to leave.”