Becoming a nurse has always meant choosing a crisis-proof profession. Registered nurses (RNs) work in hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, and many other healthcare facilities. In fact, nurses make up one of the largest segments of the American workforce and the majority of the healthcare industry. Specialist nurses are also highly paid.

Aside from being relatively crisis-proof, nursing also has a reputation for being a challenging choice of profession. Long hours, physical work and the potential of a negative patient outcome all contribute to the challenges nurses and other medical staff have felt.

Since 2020, all these issues have been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Not only were nurses part of the frontline staff that did not get the chance to work from home. They also had to face being far more exposed to the virus than others, and many could not return to their families after their shifts. Add to that a range of other stressors, and it becomes clear why many nurses left their profession.

As a consequence, employers like hospitals are now competing for top talent, especially those seeking high-paying nursing careers. Here is a closer look at what your organization can do to stand out from your competitors.

Understanding the Current Landscape of the Nursing Industry

Nursing in America is facing a crisis. Over the next decade, medical industry insiders are expecting to see growing demand for nurses that will not be met by the profession’s steady growth.

To understand what is happening to one of the nation’s largest professions, we need to go back a few decades rather than just a few years. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there are currently over four million registered nurses in the United States. Nearly 85% of those are actually employed in nursing. While that may sound like a sizable workforce, it is simply not enough to meet the growing demand for highly trained medical professionals.

This phenomenon is not new. Enter ‘nursing shortage’ as a search term in the archives of the New York Times and other media outlets, and you will see that similar shortages have been occurring for decades. This time, however, could be more serious. U.S. government predictions show that between now and 2030, more than 200,000 new positions for nurses will be created each year. That is equivalent to a 6% growth in employment every year. That growth is more than the output of nursing colleges can match. As a result, nursing shortages are likely to persist, putting pressure on employers to find and retain highly qualified nurses on their staff.

The Unique Challenges and Opportunities in Recruitment

What is driving the challenging situation of the labor market for healthcare facilities? When it comes to nursing, there are several historical and recent factors coming together.

While it is true that the pandemic has made the nursing shortage more acute, the problem started before many of us had heard of the novel coronavirus. In 2019, scientists predicted a nursing shortage caused by the increasing healthcare demands of an aging population. The study’s results showed a shortage in every U.S. state, with those in the western part of the country affected the most.

More recent research shows that the supply of registered nurses across the country fell by 100,000 between 2020 and 2021. This constitutes the largest drop in the nursing workforce since the 1980s. The authors of this study noted that many of those leaving their nursing careers were under 35 years of age, further compounding the problem.

Compounding Factors Contributing to a Nursing Shortage

Over the next ten to 15 years, a significant number of nurses will reach retirement age and leave the profession naturally. At the same time, the U.S. will have more people aged 77 and over by 2034 than people aged 18 and under. The need for care will grow.

It would be easy to think that the shortage could be solved by increasing enrollment in nursing schools. There is certainly significant interest in the nursing profession. However, for the academic year, schools turned away more than 90,000 qualified applicants because of limited numbers of faculty, classroom space, clinical sites and budget constraints.

Key Strategies for Attracting Top Talent in the Nursing Industry

No matter how much we analyze the reasons behind the nursing shortage, the outcome remains the same for healthcare providers: employers are under pressure to attract and retain the industry’s top talent. Here are some of the key strategies to help you achieve that:

1. Avoid Understaffing Shifts

Many nurses left their jobs during the pandemic due to burnout. Avoid losing staff this way by ensuring shifts run with full teams. Initially, this may mean relying on temporary nursing staff to fill vacancies and lead to an increase in operational costs.

At the same time, fully staffed shifts will help you avoid burning out your core team and increase retention, limiting staffing costs in the mid to long term.

2. Offer Job Progression and Training Opportunities

Work with your nursing team to find out what their goals are and where they would like to see their career going. Most nurses will be happy to take on the odd extra shift if they know that in a few months, they may be promoted or become eligible for specialist training.

Offering this kind of job progression will help your facility attract highly motivated nursing school graduates.

3. Reconsider Nurses’ Benefits Packages

Not everyone is motivated by pay. Ask your nurses about their pain points and find ways to address them. Something as simple as well-fitting, comfortable scrubs can make the difference between feeling comfortable all day or simply waiting for a shift to be over.

Offering childcare and other services on hospital grounds can also help attract highly qualified nurses and prevent staff from leaving when their families expand.

Benefits packages do not need to be the same for everyone. Consider offering options and allowing nurses to build a package that best suits their lifestyle.

Innovative Recruitment Techniques for the Nursing Industry

How can healthcare facilities ensure they attract the leading graduates? Aside from offering job progression and tailored benefits packages, healthcare providers can benefit from building a talent pipeline. Consider connecting with nursing colleges and nursing students while they complete their training. Provide opportunities to get to know your facility and meet your team.

By following this strategy, your hospital or clinic will be top of mind when it comes to choosing an employer after graduation. Becoming known as a responsible employer who cares for the nursing staff will also help attract top graduates.

If your facility operates different locations across the country, perhaps you can offer secondments to those? For many nurses and recent graduates, this approach would combine the reassurance of having a steady job with an opportunity to travel.

Final Thoughts

The American nursing shortage is likely to continue and perhaps worsen for the next decade or so. Building a talent pipeline, considering flexible working patterns, ensuring shifts are fully staffed and offering solid job progression can help your healthcare facility attract top nursing school graduates and retain your existing workforce. After all, without nurses and other medical professionals, you simply cannot deliver outstanding patient care.

Steven John Cumper

Steven John Cumper, B.App.Sc. (Osteo.), M.Ost., is a businessman with a strong background in biomedical science and osteopathic medicine. He founded Medshop & ScrubsIQ while studying at RMIT University in Australia, expanding its reach to markets in Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Malaysia. In September 2021, the Bunzl Group acquired a majority stake in Medshop, but Cumper remains involved as the Managing Director (Medshop Group). His journey from Zimbabwe to the UK and Australia reflects his dedication to academia and entrepreneurship, combining diverse knowledge and experience.