Byline: CHERIE BLACK, The Times-Union
As U.S. hospitals continue to suffer from a shortage of qualified nurses, which could magnify as baby boomers age and health care needs increase, Jacksonville health care organizations scramble to find ways to attract nurses to their programs.
In the newest projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, published in February's Monthly Labor Review, the nation's hospitals will need more than one million new and replacement nurses by 2012. Nursing positions will make up 75 percent of all hospital vacancies in that time, according to the projections.
On the First Coast, hospitals have come up with numerous ways to attract nurses into available positions such as scholarships, signing bonuses and bonuses for referring nurses to open positions. Some hospitals also have turned to international recruiting to increase their pool of candidates.
The efforts have so far been successful. Through a new recruiting initiative, Shands Jacksonville hired more than 100 registered nurses last fall, reducing its vacancies from more than 20 percent to less than 10 percent, said Ginger Campbell, vice president and chief nursing officer.
Wanda Gibbons, vice president and chief nursing officer at St. Vincent's Medical Center, said the hospital hired 42 nursing school graduates this summer with more scheduled to be hired in the fall. She said there are 20 open positions in a staff of about 800 nurses.
Baptist Medical Center, which employs nearly 3,000 nurses in Jacksonville, has less than 10 percent of its positions vacant, said Tracy Williams, vice president and senior nursing executive.
"I think we will constantly see a significant increase in nursing needs," Williams said. "We need to focus on bringing new nurses into the profession . . . we have to be constantly evolving and adapting to the new environments."
Campbell points to limits at nursing schools as a source of the shortage problem. She said the lack of faculty available to teach in nursing programs prevents schools from admitting more students into classes.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's report on 2003-04 enrollment and graduations, nursing schools turned away 15,944 qualified applicants to entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2003 for not enough faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical teachers and budget constraints. Nearly two-thirds of the nursing schools responding to the 2003 survey pointed to faculty shortages as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants into entry-level baccalaureate programs.
Lillia Loriz, director of the school of nursing at the University of North Florida, said of the 800 qualified students who applied to the nursing program last year, she could only accept 120 because of limited resources.
Loriz said the average age of the faculty is 55, and with no younger nurses interested in teaching, it could create a problem in the future. She said the university has started a program to train nurses for educational positions and is looking into fast-track programs into nursing education.
"We're trying to get young nurses interested in nursing education and we're trying to see how we can be creative and teach students using more simulators in the lab," Loriz said. "I wish I could admit 500 people into my program but I don't have the space or the resources."
Loriz said because of the competition with other area schools such as Jacksonville University and Florida Community College at Jacksonville, students have limited training facility space in area hospitals and are spending less time there because of few nurses to train them.
In response, Orange Park Medical Center has created a nurse internship program at UNF where graduate and returning nurses work with mentors and gain experience.
In an effort to further expand the pool of qualified nurses, hospitals such as Baptist and St. …