The key to creating more nurses is keeping more nurses

Rebecca L. Watts, Ph.D.//March 15, 2023

The key to creating more nurses is keeping more nurses

Rebecca L. Watts, Ph.D.//March 15, 2023

The nursing shortage being felt across the nation has propelled many Pennsylvania healthcare systems to give nurses’ aides more access to training with local community colleges and universities. Expanding these opportunities is certainly a positive step and must be matched with other strategies. 

A report from the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) confirms a steady increase in nursing turnover and job vacancies. Registered nurses are more likely than other professionals to switch jobs and less likely to be employed at their primary work location for more than two years. The report, which is based on a survey of Pennsylvania hospitals, found that the vacancy rate for registered nurses was 27% in 2021, a 6% increase since 2019. Additionally, the turnover rate increased between 3%-6% for the various categories of nurses over the same time period. 

Of course, Pennsylvania is not alone. In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Bacerra, American Nurses Association president Dr. Ernest Grant called the nursing shortage a “national crisis,” detailing sweeping shortages and turnover rates across the country.  

According to a 2021 study on the U.S healthcare labor market, if current trends persist, Pennsylvania will have a healthcare worker shortage of nearly 300,000, including over 20,000 nurses. 

To ensure the proper standard of care is being met for patients, healthcare providers must prioritize continuing nursing education and creating opportunities for career growth. Making an investment in the nurses they have today will help retain talent and strengthen their future labor force for tomorrow.   

The nursing shortage has prompted a rise in providers hiring travel nurses to assure standards of care for their patients. This strategy comes at a high cost, with travel professionals earning a national average of $2,034 a week. In Pennsylvania, this is up to $3,359 a week, enticing much of the incoming workforce to travel, leaving their neighborhood hospitals understaffed. Seeing this pay disparity can be discouraging for the remaining clinical staff, prompting experienced nurses to retire early or seek alternative careers. This results in the loss of valuable thought leadership and expertise that could otherwise be passed on to the next generation of nurses. Local schools with licensing programs then have a tough time, due to their need for practicing nurses to serve as part-time clinical faculty.  

We need to change this pattern by making sure talent is supported on a continuous learning and growth journey, helping more nurses reach their professional goals at their current workplace.  

The master’s degrees and post-master’s certificates in leadership and management at online institutions like Western Governors University allow working nurses to advance their career journeys in their workplace instead of leaving the industry entirely. Years in the field give many the advantage of completing courses at a faster rate with a flexible virtual classroom setting and a competency-based model. Furthering their knowledge by obtaining an MSN or certificate in nursing education also opens the door for them to become instructors for incoming nurses. 

Healthcare administrators must focus as much of their energy on talent retention and giving nurses a career pathway with upward mobility as they do on recruitment. This strategy will demonstrate that professional nursing is a career path that provides opportunities for continued growth, learning, and leadership. 

Rebecca L. Watts, Ph.D., serves as a regional vice president for Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, accredited university focused on competency-based learning that serves more than 2,800 students and 5,800 graduates in Pennsylvania. She holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from Ohio University, and degrees in communication, including a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield, a bachelor’s degree from Sangamon State University, Ill., and an associate degree from Lincoln Land Community College, Ill.