The nationwide nursing shortage isn’t really news; it’s been going on for years. But recruiters are getting creative. In an effort to attract experienced nurses, some hospitals are offering gift cards and prizes to nurses who simply show up to interview. Hard to imagine in this economy, but nursing is one profession where there are still a lot more jobs than qualified applicants. The nursing shortage is especially apparent in states like Colorado, with rapidly increasing populations that increase the demand for nurses.
One of my closest friends is an emergency room nurse. She’s been a nurse for nine years, and is still working to pay off the $60,000 in student loans she took out to pay for two years of nursing school. While it’s not as much school debt as a doctor would have, it’s still a good chunk of money. The relatively high cost of tuition could be one deterrent when students are looking at future careers, and student loans have to be taken into account when salaries are determined.
My friend worked at an emergency room in Denver for several years, but moved to the northwest coast a couple years ago, where nursing is unionized. Between the difference in hourly pay and the free health insurance benefits that she gets at her new hospital, she’s earning nearly $18/hour more than she was when she was working here in Colorado, although her cost of living is relatively unchanged.
I know that some hospitals are struggling to make ends meet and are unable to boost benefits or pay for their nurses. But why are some hospitals spending money on artwork and spa services when there’s a nationwide shortage of nurses? Why not channel that money into recruitment efforts, education grants, and higher salaries and benefits for nurses? Nursing is a tough job, and it’s made tougher by understaffing. When people wait five hours to be seen at an overcrowded emergency room, there are probably a handful of nurses on duty who haven’t been able to take a bathroom break since their shift started.
If the population in Colorado continues to grow at the projected pace, we’re going to need a lot more nurses. Hopefully this issue will be addressed in whatever health care reform the state considers over the next few years.