To say the nursing shortage is multi-factorial would be an understatement bordering on absurdity. Aging Baby Boomers, chronic diseases, and limited student capacity in nursing schools all play a role in driving what many are viewing as a nursing crisis.
But the most astute observers have noticed something else: the nursing shortage is geography-based. There are large swathes of the U.S. with an overabundance of nurses, resulting in high rates of localized unemployment. At the same time, booming retirement havens like Florida and Arizona are experiencing a shortage. To make matters more complex, many older nurses held off their retirement during the recession- now that the economy is on the upturn, they are starting to leave the workforce. Most hospitals do not want to replace their most experienced workers with inexperienced recent graduates. Since each hospital must contend with the same localized applicant pool, they are unable to fill positions as they become available. Either the applicant pool is too small (as is the case in Florida), or the applicant pool is too inexperienced, or both. Many hospitals have resorted to hiring contract nurses to fill their shortages. These are nurses who travel throughout the country, working on yearly contracts as they drift to the most lucrative offers. But nurses like these are an expensive stop-gap measure. Indeed reports that nurses are in the top 20 hardest positions to fill, right after software developers. So clearly there are entry-level nursing opportunities available- just not in certain popular locations. What is stopping young and inexperienced nurses with little holding them down from flocking to the areas where they are needed most?
The Hiring Issue
It takes an average of 37 days to fill an RN position. For a volatile workforce prone to rapid shifts, this is debilitating. By the time a hospital on the verge of closing beds completes the interview process, it is very likely the candidate has found work elsewhere, perhaps at a location not in as dire need. But an arduous application process does more than allow better-equipped hospitals to snipe local graduates. The lengthy time-to-hire deters new graduates from looking far outside their current place of residence. Consider the mindset of a recently-graduated nurse. They are likely aware of the nursing shortages in Houston and Seattle (very nice places to live, by the way), but are also aware of the time they will spend in candidacy limbo. Let’s assume the places they apply have the funds to fly them in for interviews. If they apply to positions in multiple cities, putting together a comprehensive schedule becomes the first in a long list of hiring-related headaches. But what if the hospitals in the most need, with the most entry-level positions available, are without the budget necessary to fly in prospective nurses? You see the issue now.
As a volatile workforce with localized shortages, the healthcare industry must make hiring quicker and easier than ever before. If the average time to hire was halved, how many unemployed nurses would be more inclined to send applications across state lines? If the hiring process was made easier and more personal, how many unemployed nurses would be inclined to send applications to hospitals lacking the funds to fly them in? Travelling contract-nurses are only a stop-gap measure- to accomodate localized shortages, the entire workforce must become more fluid and flexible. And that starts with making hiring faster, more personal, and more efficient.