Kentucky, like most states nationwide, is experiencing a shortage of qualified nurses. For UK HealthCare, which sees some of the sickest and most severely injured patients in the Commonwealth, this presents a particular problem. But UK HealthCare is working to combat the shortage by offering a wide variety of recruitment incentives and professional development opportunities.
A shortage of registered nurses, whether they are in hospital or clinic setting, is a multifaceted dilemma. The aging “baby boomer” population places a strain on healthcare resources, and the expansion of the Affordable Care Act means that more people are seeking treatment. The high number of Kentuckians with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and strokes also increases the demand for trained nurses.
“We have some serious health issues in our state,” said Colleen Swartz, chief nurse executive and chief administrative officer of UK HealthCare. “It’s no longer, ‘I have a fractured hip,’ it’s ‘I have a fractured hip and I’m a diabetic and I have congestive heart failure. That has created care that is very complex.”
To address both the shortage and the complex health issues with which nurses must contend, UK HealthCare and the College of Nursing have instituted education incentives designed to attract new nurses and provide current UK nurses with opportunities for professional development. These incentives include tuition assistance, loan-repayment programs and continuing education programs.
One such program is Nursing Professional Advancement, which rewards nurses with pay differentials added to their base pay for participating in development opportunities. The nurse residency program for new graduate nurses is a one-year educational and support program that provides regular contact with experts and mentors to help with the transition from student to professional.
“We try to provide students with the best learning environment we possibly can,” said Swartz.
The UK College of Nursing awards over 300 undergraduate and graduate degrees each year. The PhD program is ranked among the top eight programs in the U.S. by the National Research Council, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) was the first of its kind the U.S. Online continuing education programs are available, as well as a number of graduate certificates geared toward preparing advanced practice registered nurses for national certification eligibility and licensure in a new or additional specialty area.
“The registered nurse of today is not the registered nurse of a decade ago,” said Swartz. “There is an increase in demand on their performances and their understanding of complexities.”
While other healthcare centers offer monetary incentives, such as sign-on bonuses for new hires, UK focuses on recruiting nurses looking to expand their skill set or to advance their careers.
The hospital’s reputation is a factor as well. UK HealthCare was named the best hospital in Kentucky by the U.S. News & World Report, and has achieved top 50 rankings in cancer treatment, neurology, geriatrics, and diabetes and endocrinology.
“[Another benefit] is the culture of the environment such as hospitals with magnet status that treat employees with respect,” said Janie Heath, dean of the College of Nursing. “We recognize and promote their outstanding efforts to meet the mission of care delivery excellence.”