Reliance on 'traveling' nurses soars at University of Iowa
By Vanessa Miller | The Gazette | 6/26/2017
Facing a national nursing shortage that’s particularly taxing for the state’s largest hospital system, the growing University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics increasingly is relying on “traveling nurses” to fill the gaps — paying a premium that can be double or more of what a staff nurse earns.
Their use can swell hospital costs, affect morale and propel turnover, aggravating the very nurse recruitment and retention problem that’s driving the increasing need for travelers.
“Sometimes you’ll see a traveler that’s maybe from an institution that doesn’t see the acuity that the U does, and so it’s a nurse that’s not necessarily prepared for the role that she is filling,” said Alexis Carson, who’s been a UIHC staff nurse for more than four years but is leaving next month for a better-paying traveling gig.
Recruitment and retention
The UIHC nurse shortage is hardly unique. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics project 1.09 million registered nurse job openings by 2024, UI officials point out.
Compounding the university’s need for more nurses was its recent opening of the new $360 million, 14-floor Stead Family Children’s Hospital, which added 134 patient beds.
UIHC said that “maintaining appropriate staffing levels for nurses is critical for providing excellent care to our patients, which is why UI Health Care has an ongoing robust recruitment effort.”
This year, the university has added social media, digital advertisement and job fairs to its nurse recruiting toolbox. Since January, UIHC has filled 733 “nursing and related positions.”
‘We need more faculty’
Entangled with the national nurse shortage — and contributing to it — is the struggle to educate and train new nurses.
The UI College of Nursing is on the front line of that battle, as it vies for top faculty in hopes of upping its capacity for students.
“People would think, ‘Well, why don’t you just admit more people?’” said Anita Stineman, a registered nurse, associate professor and UI interim associate dean for academic affairs. “For us, that has a trickle effect. Because what happens when we admit more students, we need more faculty. And that’s how the nursing shortage hits us — is in faculty.
The university also is bound by Iowa Board of Nursing regulations that limit ratios for clinical experiences. Thus the university admits only 72 undergraduate students to its bachelor of science in nursing program in both the fall and the spring.
“That’s really the maximum that our clinical facilities can meet,” Stineman said. “We can only admit enough students that we can cover the full range of clinical experiences for them.”
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