It’s one of the hottest jobs in the United States. It’s intellectually challenging, pays well, and can, literally, save lives.
Yet healthcare organizations can’t find enough nurses. As the industry celebrates National Nurses Week this week, leaders are working hard to find new recruits to fill the country’s hospitals, assisted-living facilities, and all other healthcare businesses. “The growth and demand for healthcare services are expanding and pressuring the nursing role,” says Tom Flannery, PhD, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in healthcare in firm’s Executive Pay and Governance practice.
It’s simple math: more clinics, ambulatory services, hospice care, and the like equal more of a need for nurses. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the registered nurse workforce to grow by half a million, to 3.4 million, by 2026. Despite that growth, the bureau projects a shortage of about 204,000 nurses annually to fill new and vacant positions. “There just aren’t enough people going into the nursing profession,” Flannery says.
The talent shortage is reverberating throughout the healthcare industry. Nurses frequently cite mandatory overtime, poor work-life balance, and difficult working conditions (i.e., accidents with needles or violent patients) are chief job stressors.
Much like healthcare organizations themselves, the nursing profession is also grappling with business, cultural, and technological change. Digital innovation and constantly changing regulatory oversight mean more education and training. At the same time, they often spend less time with patients. “Because the role has changed so much, nurses feel less empowered and less involved in the real heart of the job, which is the caring component,” says Kae Robertson, a senior client partner who specializes in healthcare at Korn Ferry.
On the organizational side, the need for nurses is leading to increased recruiting and training and development efforts. Some firms are starting nursing schools in-house, while others are offering tuition support to create pathways to bring more talent into the field. Organizations are also stepping up hiring from outside the US, raising pay wages, offering more flexible working schedules, and playing up their purpose in making people’s lives better to appeal to talent. In part because of these efforts, more millennials and men are entering nursing; about 11% of nurses are now men.
While organizations are focusing their talent development efforts around creating demand, Robertson says more work can be done to improve retention of experienced nurses. She says organizations could explore different forms of compensation. Another idea, create community benefit programs that would allow nurses who might otherwise leave the often highly-demanding role to work at a much lower productivity level but still stay in the field.
As healthcare moves toward a value-based model (where services and treatment are provided proactively in a bid to reduce health issues and limit chronic illness), patient care is only going to become more important. That means nurses are only going to become more important as well. “The real goal is to alleviate stress and improve working conditions for nurses so that they can focus on the needs of patients and their families,” says Robertson.