Notes from the Dean's Desk
Jefferson College of Nursing, Jefferson Health Partner to Address Workforce Crisis and Keep Graduates 'At Home'
Strong forces pulling in opposite directions have created a crisis in America’s nursing workforce. Jefferson College of Nursing and other centers for nursing education simply aren’t providing enough graduates to fill the growing number of slots created as many nurses reach retirement age or choose to leave the profession. The global pandemic has intensified the transitions of nurses both within and out of the profession.
In the fall of 2021, our partner system Jefferson Health had more than 500 registered nurse vacancies across our 14 acute care hospitals. That was above the national average and came during a year in which Jefferson Health’s nurse turnover rate reached 17 percent, up from about 10 percent the previous year. Intense practice setting challenges, the acuity of patients and level of suffering created by the COVID-19 pandemic were a factor, but there were many others. Chief Nurse Executive Kate FitzPatrick and I co-convened a Nursing Workforce Summit in October 2021. The College of Nursing and Jefferson Health now have joined in a collaborative effort to co-create strategies required to provide a full-strength nursing workforce.
We must bolster Jefferson Health’s ability to attract and retain nurses, and assure that the College of Nursing not only maintains but reinvigorates its role as our health system’s primary source of nurses to meet expanding needs.
The final form of our effort is still being defined, but we certainly will take a broad and aggressive approach. To retain the nurses we already have, nursing salaries were increased in May 2021 and throughout the pandemic we have offered bonus and incentive programs to staff. We are looking at expansion of our nurse extern model and at providing onsite medical assistants, nursing assistants, and patient care technicians. In addition, we launched the Jefferson College of Nursing-Jefferson Health capstone program as a pipeline strategy to provide College of Nursing senior nursing students three-week immersion experiences across Jefferson Health sites with the goal of pre-hiring for full time roles at Jefferson.
Jefferson College of Nursing will do more to help its students see the profession’s wide range of opportunities. We will make sure they understand that within the Jefferson family there are plenty of great career opportunities — so there’s no need to leave town, or even move across town, after graduation. We will demonstrate to our graduates that traditional medical/surgical work is just one part of nursing, that they should explore opportunities across the continuum of care. And we will launch new efforts to encourage those who earn their bachelor’s degrees at Jefferson College of Nursing to stay here for graduate school.
The ever-rising price tag for education also will be addressed. Options could include more liberal use of tuition benefits to offset costs of education and, as an incentive to remain a Jefferson nurse long term, providing tuition/college benefits for dependents of our nurses when they stay on the job for a significant number of years.
Jefferson Health’s leadership will encourage those who today play supporting roles to physicians and nurses — including certified nursing assistants (CNAs), patient care technicians (PCTs), and medical assistants (MAs) — to continue their education by earning a nursing degree and staying on in new positions within the Jefferson family.
Rebuilding and maintaining America’s nursing workforce will take time. But at Jefferson, we have pledged our time and energy to assuring that the nation’s aging population, with its increasingly sophisticated healthcare needs, will be served by a growing force of well-prepared, committed nursing professionals.