The Nursing Shortage: Solutions for Your Business

As the population continues to age, the need for nurses is going to skyrocket. At the same time that the baby-boomers move into the older-adult segment and therefore need more acute medical treatment, a majority of the nursing workforce will have retired, and there won’t be enough younger nurses to take their place. According to Dr. Linda Aiken, temporary nurse staffing agencies like yours offer a logical solution to the increasing shortage, but the first hurdle you have to jump is a high one-proving to hospital nurses and their managers that your services are a necessary solution to the dilemma.

Start doing some myth-busting. At least that’s what Dr. Aiken suggests will alleviate the pre-conceived notion that temporary nurse staffing agencies are a bad thing. In order to stop a rumor, you must first understand the source. In this case, the source is the full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses currently employed with hospitals. A whopping 41 percent of nurses are dissatisfied with their jobs compared to the average of 10 percent in other professions. It’s caused by inadequate staffing and lack of supportive services. Given the circumstances, it would appear that nurses could be some of your biggest advocates, but they’re not because of their negative perceptions regarding the temporary staffing industry.

For the most part, nurses have three issues with supplemental staffers. First, FTE nurses think that hiring temporary nurses increases their burden. They believe that temps are not capable of holding leadership and/or management roles, which means that the permanent staff is left to handle those positions. Next, because permanent nurses are not involved with the selection process, they don’t have a sense of a temporary nurse’s qualifications, so they fear that short-term nurses won’t exhibit the same amount of professionalism or demand the same amount of excellence as they do. Finally, permanent nurses misunderstand the true value of using temporary staffers, and they think hiring them is a waste of hospital resources. It is your job to convince them otherwise.

Dr. Aiken explained that in reality, temporary nurses do have the ability to perform the same duties as permanent nurses, and most of them also have an above-average education level and training experience. In fact, statistics show that more temporary nurses have bachelors’ degrees than permanent nurses. Because they are exposed to a variety of different hospital environments, provisional staffers add an extensive training background to each new facility that they join. Lastly, the concept that it costs more to pay a temporary nurse than it does to hire a full-time nurse is outdated and incorrect. In reality, if you were to add up health insurance, paid time off, tuition reimbursement for continued-learning, medical benefits and hourly wages, it actually costs more to pay a permanent nurse than it would to budget for a temporary one.

Keep in mind that your clients take feedback from their nursing staff seriously. They take note of their nurses’ negative opinions towards temporary staffing, but what hospital managers don’t understand are the reasons why their nurses don’t approve. So if you want to create a business relationship with a hospital, you may need to first educate the management level about where the real problems are in the workforce and then show how your services can repair the situation. Gone are the days of simply sitting by the phone and only sending out nurses when someone calls in and requests them. According to Dr. Aiken, to be successful now and on into the future, your agency needs to develop a strategic plan to become an extension of the hospitals and other institutions that you wish to do business with.

It all starts with assessing the prospective institution’s strategic goals. Interacting with the nurses and nurse executives working within the facility is a good way to get to know their concerns about the staffing industry. Dr. Aiken suggests listening to them and then gathering the necessary empirical data to accurately assess their situation. Put all of your findings together in a formal presentation, and give it during a nurse and/or health management meeting, where a majority of the negative rumors originate. Start doing the necessary myth-busting by presenting directly to the source. Make it your mission to describe the industry’s truths, and show them how developing a strategic relationship will alleviate staffing gaps, eliminate job dissatisfaction and improve the overall operations at the facility.

It’s no secret that the opportunities for health care staffing firms will continue to grow because of projected long-term nurse shortages and the relentless demand for new nurses. However, the need for additional nurses alone is not enough for you to prosper in the staffing industry. Partnering with hospitals and showing them how to use temporary staffing strategically will help them achieve their valued institutional goals, and it will improve the value of your services and the value of the staffing industry as a whole.

Dr. Linda Aiken is the Claire M. Fagin Leadership Professor of Nursing, as well as a professor of Sociology and the Director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses on the current issues in health and social policy and health outcomes research in both nursing and sociology. She was most recently appointed Director of New Nursing Quality Initiative in Russia and Armenia, sponsored by the American International Health Alliance in conjunction with the Credential International of the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Dr. Aiken spoke on the topic “The Nursing Shortage: Solutions for Your Business” at the American Staffing Association (ASA) Staffing World 2004 conference on Saturday, October 23, 2004. Summarized above are highlights of her presentation that we thought might be of interest to our clients.