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How to Recruit Nurses in 2016: Eight Strategies to Fill the Pipeline

How to Recruit Nurses in 2016: Eight Strategies to Fill the Pipeline

By: John Rossheim 

Will 2016 bring the perfect storm of a worse-than-ever nursing shortage? And how is it likely to impact nursing recruiters who are looking to fill nursing jobs

It's too early to know, but many of the perennial contributing factors to find nursing talent point to a wider gap between supply and demand: 

  • Aging baby boomers are only getting older and in need of more medical services 
  • More nurses have rebuilt their nest eggs for retirement 
  • Bottlenecks in nursing education continue to constrain the talent pipeline

As a nurse recruiter, how can you bridge the gap? Here are eight strategies — some for today, others for the long term — that can help. 

Acknowledge that the nursing talent war is (back) on. With the recession long behind us and millions more Americans covered by Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid, “there’s been a resurgence of staff-level demand," says Rae Ellen Douglas, a partner at search firm Kaye Bassman International

Meanwhile, retirements have picked up as the economic recovery has made senior nurses more financially secure.

"Everyone is again facing a nursing shortage," Douglas says.

Nurse recruiters, in response, are getting more aggressive. "I'm an advanced practice nurse, and in the last three months my mail has been deluged with recruitment materials," says Sharon Maguire, chief clinical officer at BrightStar Care, a home care  provider. "There’s a resurgence of signing and retention bonuses."

Sell candidates on the quality of the organization. If you're desperate to fill a dozen requisitions, it's easy to forget about what matters most to nurses. 

"A deep commitment to quality is what's appealing," says Maguire. "Nurses want to know what’s required of them in their job, and what tools and resources they have to do their job, especially in home care."

Get new RNs to think outside the hospital. Many Millennial nurses — from the BSN class of 2016 to mid-career practitioners in their early thirties — seek similar job situations: big-city hospitals near their family and friends. So if you're recruiting for community-based care or other non-hospital settings, you've got to get creative with the pitch. 

"We find RNs who are looking for greater flexibility, a little more autonomy, in an administrative, consultative, case-management role," says Maguire of the home-care setting. "Coming from a hospital environment, they want to try something different." 

Strong supervision can help hospitals overcome new grads' lack of experience. Experienced nurses in demanding hospital specialties are hard to come by and hard to keep. So hospital recruiters must persuade clinical leaders to invest in creative recruitment solutions. "ER, OR and critical care get hit the worst because they can’t as easily accept new grads," says Douglas. 

"I do have some clients who bring in brand new nurses to these departments – they have strong preceptor and mentoring programs. Sometimes what's needed for more successful recruiting is not a different marketing strategy but a closer relationship between clinical leadership and HR."

Think like a Millennial about professional development. Younger workers especially are always looking for readily available resources to advance their careers — through mentoring and further education, for example. Many are thinking about masters studies, especially second-career candidates, says Harriet Feldman, Ph.D., RN, dean of the Lienhard School of Nursing  at Pace University. So even if it seems premature, pitch your career resources starting with the first candidate contact.

Help nursing schools accommodate your future hires. Nursing schools turned away nearly 70,000 qualified applicants in 2014 due to insufficient faculty, classrooms, clinical programs and money, according to a fact sheet released by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Providers that partner with nursing schools to help ease critical bottlenecks in nursing education can also help themselves stoke their nurse-recruitment pipeline. 

"Our very big challenge is clinical placements," says Feldman. "And finding people who are doctorate-prepared for tenure-track faculty positions is the difficulty," says Feldman. "We’re using masters-prepared nurses to fill in temporarily."

It's never too soon to start thinking about retaining new nurses. What keeps nurses from job hopping? Real power to affect how patients are cared for, and how provider organizations are run. 

"Larger institutions often have good retention of nurses because they treat them as partners," says Feldman.

Blow the whistle on hazing. It's painfully obvious that nurses, especially when they've gained a year or two of experience, call the shots in this labor market. So why do so many new nurses find themselves in toxic work environments? It's often the company culture. It's also often a case of lackluster leadership that's ultimately responsible for it. 

"Some nurses eat their young," says Douglas. "So the organization has to hold incumbent staff accountable to standards of behavior." The culture must promote helpfulness and not tolerate workplace bullying, which is entrenched in some hospitals, Douglas adds.