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Nursing shortage not slowing down as need continues to grow

Posted at 5:05 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 11:07:33-04

TAMPA, Fla. — They care for us when we are sick or hurt and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have gone above and beyond. Just as we need them the most, the on-again, off-again nursing shortage is on-again, and it is not slowing down anytime soon.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the United States will need another 1.1 million nurses by 2022. Sheila Castle has been a nurse for more than 25 years. Right now, she works at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“Considering I was told about the nursing shortage while I was in nursing school [in the 1990s], it’s ironic that it’s coming back up and now I am feeling the … results of this nursing shortage,” said Castle. She goes on to describe what she is seeing among colleagues.

“So, we have the retirement, early retirement, and then some just decide to leave nursing altogether and change fields and go into a different career,” said Castle.

Castle’s personal experience matches information from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing which states: "a large percentage of the current workforce is nearing retirement age, nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough, and there is also a shortage of people to teach future nurses."

“It has been a lot of stress on those who are still working to train the new generation of nurses who are coming in,” said Castle.

Kayla McNulty helped give us the perspective of that new generation.

“For as long as I can remember, nursing was exactly what I wanted to do,” said McNulty who currently works as a pediatric registered nurse at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

“It’s definitely been tough. I’ve only been a nurse for three years. The past year and a half has been really hard,” said McNulty.

She said they take it shift-by-shift and the nurses really rely on each other.

“None of us really want to leave. We just want to get through it, but it has been a long period of just knowing we need nine nurses tonight and we are working with seven and just what that’s going to look like for the 12-hour shift. Now that shift is turning into weeks, and now it has been months,” said McNulty.

The nursing shortage varies by state, so we spoke with the Dean of the USF Health College of Nursing about what is happening in Florida.

“In the next year, by 2022, the estimate is that the US will need another 1.1 million nurses and in Florida, the shortage is escalating, where estimates show by 2025, we are really going to be in very great trouble,” said Dean Usha Menon.

Dean Menon says the biggest challenge nurses are facing right now is burnout, especially with what they have gone through during the pandemic. She says they are working with nurses on self-care, which is something they did not necessarily focus on before. Both nurses we spoke with for this report said they see it among their colleagues and have felt it.

“I have just kind of realized self-care is so important,” said McNulty. “It makes all the difference to step back, reassess, and realize why you are doing what you are doing.”

“My advice to those out there is to recognize it," said Castle. "It was a long time before I actually recognized that I was having some burnout before I started doing some things to help counteract that."

Despite the challenges, both McNulty and Castle remain optimistic.

“Now, more than ever, we have the chance to show people our strength, our resiliency through this crazy time, and ultimately our commitment to our patients and their families,” said McNulty.

“Because that’s what nurses do. You are here for a reason – a main purpose – to provide care and comfort to those who come through your doors,” said Castle.

Dean Menon has a message for nurses who are struggling right now: “One is to hang in there. It has been a very tough year for all of us. The rewards are enormous. Maybe take a break, but don’t leave the profession entirely because we need you.”

Listen to the discussion with Dean Menon regarding the shifting programs at the USF Health College of Nursing|USF Health and how they hope it will impact the Bay Area.

Web Extra: USF Dean Menon on Nursing Shortage

We asked major hospital groups in the Bay Area about incentives they offer to new hires or to current employees when they refer candidates for RN positions. Below are the responses we received from representatives.

New Hires: AdventHealth understands the critical need for nurse staffing during this time and we are taking aggressive steps to recruit the best people possible to care for our patients. AdventHealth is working to provide RN recruitment incentives that are competitive and will help attract top talent. Right now, there are four recruitment incentive updates across the West Florida Division:

  • Critical Shift Bonus
  • Seasonal Contract with Completion Bonus
  • $15,000 sign-on bonus for Cath Lab and Respiratory Therapist full-time positions
  • $35,000 bonus for Registered Nurses in the ICU, PCU, Medical/Surgical, Emergency Room and Operating Room full-time positions
  • Up to $5,000 sign-on for newly licensed Registered Nurses

Current Employees: AdventHealth West Florida Division currently offers employees referral bonuses for hot jobs such as registered nurse positions.

New Hires: Rather than offering bonuses to external candidates not connected to BayCare, we prefer to reward our own team members for recruiting their friends and family to join us.

Current Employees: We recently launched an enhanced referral bonus program to reward our existing team members with up to $5,000 when they refer applicants who are hired and stay with BayCare. The top reward is for referring bedside RNs with at least one year of experience. Additional rewards vary based on the position, including a $1,000 reward for referring less-experienced RNs.

Bayfront St. Pete
Bayfront Health St. Petersburg continually seeks great nursing talent and rewards them with a pay and benefits package that is one of the best in the area. For example, our nurses have the opportunity to participate in many Total Reward programs that are attractive to our RN hires including student loan repayment and tuition reimbursement. Under new leadership since October 2020, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg has and continues to adopt new enhancements to support our team members’ work-life balance. Open positions continue to flex based on recruiting activity, volume and growth.

John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
New Hires:

  • Relocation allowance
  • Sign-on bonuses for hard to fill areas
  • Best-in-class yearlong nurse residency program for new grads
  • Benefits effective first day of work, PTO accrual first day of work
  • Tobacco-free credit of $20 per pay period
  • Tuition assistance up to $5,250 annually (for those who qualify)

Current Employees: Up to $5,000 for direct patient care RN positions