Facing a quickly-aging population and increasing need for health care services, the United States is experiencing a severe shortage of skilled registered nurses to help meet the demand for medical care. However, a program developed at Emory Healthcare is tapping a widely unrecognized pool of talent to help fill the needs at three hospitals.
Emory's nurse re-entry program hires qualified nurses who have been out of hospital nursing for more than four years and pays them to attend an eight-week training course, where they gradually work in units of their choice with a preceptor (a trainer within the unit), until they are comfortable working alone. By the end of the program, nurse recruits earn more than 100 hours in classroom education and more than 200 hours of hands-on clinical experience.
According to Marti Wilson, RN, manager of nursing special projects at Emory Healthcare, the program has numerous positive aspects that benefit both patients and nurses. "This program allows us to identify and employ skilled nurses who have been out of the field for a number of years--whether it be to raise children or to pursue other career opportunities--and provide them with the classroom and clinical experience that will bring them up-to-date with current practices in the nursing profession," said Wilson.
"While in the program, the nurses are already receiving a paycheck and full benefits, which is another outstanding benefit to them and their families."
According to Wilson, in Atlanta, only Kennesaw State University offers a refresher course for nurses--providing 40 hours of class study and 160 hours of clinical time. Emory's commitment to the re-entry nurse far surpasses the state board requirements.
"Georgia's board of nursing is very strict in its protection of patients and it will not grant a nursing license to someone moving into the state, or reactivate a license that has been expired for four or more years without the refresher courses. Kennesaw's program meets the state's requirements and we take ours yet another step in an effort to prepare our nurses to be successful in their chosen careers--and to be long-term Emory nurses," Wilson said.
Started in 2000, the program was the brainchild of Emory's Chief Nursing Officer Alice Vautier, EdD, RN. At the time, administrators were seeking a way to find a new source for nursing talent. The re-entry program was one of 20 creative programs designed to provide Emory Healthcare with nurses in a time of an increasing nursing shortage. To date, more than 100 nurses have participated in the program, which is offered twice a year with the average class size of 10-12 nurses.
"Dr. Vautier realized that the state board had quite a few nurses listed with licenses who weren't working. It seemed like an untapped group, so we worked with the board to create the refresher course," Wilson said.
"It's been an incredible success since creation, and the nurses we attract and hire have a much higher retention rate because they are motivated to return to the profession, have often raised their children or experienced other career opportunities, and have realized that this is where they want to be. Further, Dr. Vautier feels that retention of this staff reflects our commitment to the re-entry nurse and Emory's commitment to excellence in nursing practice," Wilson continued.
According to statistics published by the U.S. Department of Labor, more than one million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2012. For the first time, the Department of Labor has identified registered nursing as the top occupation in terms of job growth through the year 2012.
The aging of nurses as a demographic also continues to rise. In March 2004, the average age of the registered nurse population was estimated to be 46.8 years of age, more than a year older than the average age of 45.2 years estimated in 2000 and more than four years older than in 1996, when the age age was 42.3 years, according to the Georgia Nurses Association.
"The demand and need for qualified nurses is as real as can be," Wilson said. "We feel like the nurse re-entry program at Emory is one way of attracting a talented pool of professionals, allowing us to offer them the re-education and clinical tools they need, while also providing important economic incentives. It's a win-win for everyone."