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Recruiters Rally to Bring in the RNs

Monday May 20, 2002
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WHO HASN'T HEARD or read about the nursing shortage? Thanks to plenty of media publicity lately, just about everyone knows there's a problem - but no one understands the issues better than nursing recruiters.
"The biggest challenge is matching the candidates' desired shift and area with what's available, given their experience and skills," says Heidi Malez, RN, BSN, employment manager for Holy Cross Hospital, Fort Lauderdale. "Most nurses are looking for the 'ideal' shift and specialty and don't want to go back into the acute care side for med/surg or telemetry."
Many nurses ask for the day shift, she says, which makes night shift recruiting a challenge, whatever the specialty. One way Malez has tried to meet staff needs is by adapting a self-scheduling model in most nursing units. Other efforts include offering an RN refresher course and hosting a hospital open house, complete with free food, prizes, and music.
Pam Callaway, RN, manager of regional recruitment for Tampa-based BayCare, echoes many of Malez's concerns. Like all healthcare organizations, she says, BayCare is clamoring for qualified recruits.
"Our biggest challenge is finding experienced nurses," says Callaway. "We have difficulty finding those with experience in med/surg and critical care, but the needs vary in each of our facilities." Callaway says the future depends on attracting graduate nurses. "We have galas for them to celebrate and recognize their years of hard work."
Reaching Out
Denise McNulty, RNC, MSN, ARNP, a former recruiter and now director of nursing for The Willough at Naples, thinks there just aren't enough local nurses to go around. Her greatest challenge has been persuading nursing directors and managers to look outside Florida to fill vacancies. Another must, she says, is offering internships for new grads and returning RNs.
"These nurses need special attention and intense orientation," says McNulty. "I've also found that hospitals focusing on nurse retention are the most successful with recruitment." Too often, she adds, facilities say retention is a priority, but don't practice what they preach.
Sheila Taylor, RN, recruiter for Westside Regional Medical Center, Plantation, believes the hospital's partnership with nursing schools has had a positive effect on recruiting new grads. Offering scholarships to current nursing students and to graduates seeking further education has been another plus. But filling vacancies is a perennial issue. "The biggest challenge," she says, "is competing with attractive packages for agency and travel nursing."
Florida recruiters are putting their heads together to meet the challenge. They network, commiserate, and look for creative solutions to the nursing shortage. With the help of the Nursing Shortage Consortium-South Florida, the Southwest Florida Nursing Recruitment Task Force, and the West Central Florida Health Care Recruiters Association, though, they're beginning to see some results. The groups meet monthly and work to attract people to nursing by sponsoring educational programs in middle and high schools and by hosting career days and nurse shadowing opportunities. By working with nursing leaders and educators, recruiters are meeting the shortage head on.
Accent on Support - and Retention
"We have a great support system," says Malez. "In Broward County, we developed a task force addressing media coverage for nursing. We all have different types of services and hospital environments, and we have unique things to talk about."
McNulty agrees, but feels recruiters need to work on retention issues, a dilemma she and others have openly shared
at meetings.
"As recruiters, we can bring them to the door, but often can't affect the outcome," she says. "I believe recruiters need to be included in retention initiatives since they're generally the ones whom nurse hires call when they have a beef about not feeling welcome or being promised something that didn't happen."
Recruiters from healthcare systems also band together to share information. Nine BayCare recruiters, for example, collaborate in the hunt for experienced RNs
by getting together for a weekly phone conference. One by one, they discuss their concerns and share information.
Flexible staffing is one way BayCare attracts nurses. One system hospital, for example, offers a seasonal school schedule, which lets RNs work day shifts, with no work on weekends or holidays or during the summer. Another innovation: For nurses who aren't sure the position is right for them, 13-week contracts are available.
Callaway points out that BayCare is strong on internships as a way of attracting nurses to the fold. "We have many critical care internship programs," she says, "which impact staffing in progressive and critical care and the ED. We also have internships in perioperative, high-risk perinatal, L&D, NICU, and pediatric cardiac critical care."
What about nurses who've left hospital nursing and may be thinking of coming back, but don't want to work every holiday or rotate shifts? "We have so many different options for
nurses," says Callaway. "No one has to return to the standard nursing unit. The nurses can join the mobile pool and set their own schedules."
Aiming High
With the nursing shortage, RNs these days can afford to shoot for the stars, not just the moon. They're looking for higher salaries, but also clinical advancement and flexible schedules, plus ways to balance family and work life.
In a word, they want perks, and Holy Cross is happy to oblige, says Malez. Besides the clinical ladder advancement program and seasonal incentive programs, the hospital offers educational and training programs, a new on-site wellness center, and a Heart Healthy Café.
Recruiters spend the bulk of their time and energy speaking with nurses who are mulling over a job change. Often what a recruiter says - or doesn't - influences that decision.
McNulty admits to having used a bit of psychology in working with nurses considering a move to Florida. Well aware that relocation might involve an entire family, she has worked hard helping nurses get licensed and even assisted them in choosing the right neighborhood and the best schools for their kids.
And she willingly did all this after hours and on weekends because that's when most nurses feel free to talk.
"It's important that nurses trust the recruiter," says McNulty. "Changing jobs and moving can be among the most important decisions a nurse makes." But while a job is important, feeling comfortable in the home environment is more so, she says. "I've always worked hard to meet individual needs and help nurses find, not just a new job, but a better quality of life."
Theodora B. Aggeles, RN, BA, writes frequently for Nursing Spectrum. She lives in St. Petersburg.