VCU struggles to recruit nurses during nationwide shortage

Wanted: Nurses

Since the nationwide nursing shortage began, nursing professionals — including those on VCU’s medical campus — find themselves struggling to recruit nurses.

Nearly five years ago, the media started reporting about a shortage of nurses in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and, in some instances, public schools. Nancy Langston, dean of VCU’s School of Nursing, said that the shortage slowly migrated to Virginia about three years ago.

The shortage, she said, started mainly in specific areas such as operating rooms and in clinics before it rapidly spread to other areas of the nursing field. She not only attributed this shortage to fewer people entering the nursing field but also to more nurses retiring while fewer people entered the profession.

Another factor?

Hospitals now house more terminally ill people than they did in past years.

“The sicker you are the fewer people the nurse can take care of,” Langston said, explaining that now anyone in the hospital needs more nursing care than most patients did in past years. Since one nurse can take care of only four, five or six of these ill people, the demand for nurses is even greater.

Local medical professionals contend that the shortage already severely hit the hospitals and nursing homes in the Richmond area. At the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals, 70 nursing positions remain vacant, while the local nonprofit Instructive Visiting Nurse Association advertises for part-time registered nurses, a weekend staff and one full-time nurse.

Larrietta Roberts, the director of the visiting nursing association, said hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and agencies all recruit from the same places, which compounds the problem.

“We are all looking in the same pool,” she said. “The demand for nurses is high, but the supply from which we are getting them from is very low.”

This year, as in the past five years, an estimated 25 percent fewer people seek nursing as a career. Although VCU officials have seen a decrease in applicants, its enrollment numbers remain the same, Langston said, because the school accepts only 80 nursing students each year.

Still, to maintain applicants, Langston said VCU recruits more frequently and takes the recruiting more seriously than it did in previous years.

“We used to think that recruiting was merely handing out pamphlets and brochures,” Langston said. “But now due to the shortage we see that we have to really get out there and be more hands-on. We need to show people what we are all about.”

Therefore, the dean said VCU hired recruiters to visit such areas as Washington, D.C., and historically black colleges and universities to expand the diversity within the nursing field. In addition, VCU sends some of its nursing students to high schools to recruit candidates for its nursing program.

Besides personal recruiting visits, VCU sends videos about its nursing program to high school counselors in Virginia. Moreover, people soon can view a billboard at the baseball diamond in Richmond, Langston said, to attract as many candidates as possible –even those who hadn’t considered nursing as a career.

To further enhance recruitment, the nursing school offers several scholarships. VCU disburses more than $400,000 each year to undergraduate and graduate nursing students. Several hospitals also offer loan payback programs, meaning they will pay all or part of a student’s loan as a further enticement to the profession.

IVNA uses various methods of recruiting.

Roberts said since Richmond is very competitive for employment, IVNA will relocate any nurses interested in working for the association to the Richmond area.

“As an incentive we also offer benefits to our full- and part-time staffs along with community-based outreach programs,” she said.

Langston said she anticipates that the shortage will last at least another 20 years.

“To bring the shortage to an end, every School of Nursing will have to increase its enrollment by at least one-half (of its current numbers),” she said.

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