5 Ways for Hospitals to Address the Nursing Shortage

nurse burnout

How are you handling the nursing shortage? A client at our last Solutions at Work LIVE conference discussed the subject, telling us it's more than a recruiting problem.

"One of the questions we hear most often," West Virginia University (WVU) Medicine's Leeann Cerimele told us, "is, 'What are you doing to keep people that have been here a really long time?" It's a big concern. The average age of today's working nurse is 50, a figure that has risen substantially since 1980. According to The Atlantic, meaning retirement is on the horizon for about a third of the nursing workforce, a segment that won't be easily replaced - in numbers or knowledge - by incoming young hires.

That means keeping up with nursing needs will require keeping veteran nurses on the job.

Five ways to help you do that:

Pull up a chair

Gen X and Boomers are aware of the perks being thrown at new nurses; and it's no surprise that they want their fair share. WVU has started focus groups to find out what that might mean, and what would keep them coming to work. "We're really seeking feedback form them," says Leanne, "so that we can understand what is it that they want.

Help with the sandwich

Gen X nurses aren't the only people aging; their parents are, too. Keeping older employees in the workforce will be easier if they know they have eldercare to fall back on if they need help for mom and dad.

Remember they're still parents

Child care for younger nurses is a given. But what about school-age kids? Remembering older offspring - providing study advice and how-tos for the stress-fueled get-into-college stage - keeps people around, and not just at hospitals. "When I see my employer committed to following you as you age," one employee told Working Mother last year, "it makes me feel more committed."

Make them feel important

A 15- or 20-year career is a deserving milestone. Some hospitals are rewarding it with benefits - like reduced schedules and special projects - just for these experienced nurses.

Inspire them

An employee aging toward retirement still wants to be engaged. Need proof? Last year, roughly two-thirds of Gen X and Boomer nurses in our study ranked tuition assistance as their top benefit - more than twice the number interested in things like onsite gyms.

None of the above negates the importance of recruitment or appealing to new-to-the-field young hires. It's merely recognition of your important knowledge base, and that hanging on to these employees (and so being able to staff beds) will require thinking beyond Millennials. 

Today's 40- and 50-year-old nurses will, of course, eventually retire; but tuning into their unique and evolving needs may just mean they don't go before they - and you - are ready.

Written by: Ellen Oliver

About the Author

Ellen Oliver at Bright Horizons

As Director of B2B Marketing Programs, Ellen writes about talent management, employee engagement, and work/life balance trends. Ellen brings a wide perspective of human resource topics gained through working with industries from large engineering and construction firms, to government and academic organizations and nonprofits.