LAS CRUCES – Nursing shortages across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, and hospitals are viing to recruit nurses with experience in the field as well as new graduates.
As part of that effort, many systems are boosting compensation and promoting generous sign-on bonuses.
In El Paso, the Hospitals of Providence network is hosting mixer events in relaxed settings to mix networking and job interviews with beer, food — even bowling; and besides enhanced pay and benefits, graduate nurses can claim a $30,000 sign-on bonus.
On Wednesday, a team from Providence’s Transmountain campus reserved the patio at Bosque Brewing Company, right across the street from New Mexico State University’s main campus in Las Cruces, for a meet and greet with upcoming graduates from NMSU’s School of Nursing.
Lydia Alkire, chief nursing officer for the Hospitals of Providence east campus, said sign-on bonuses have been an industry standard for years, but those bonuses are growing. Over the past year, Providence increased its bonuses from $20,000 to $30,000.
She said events like the one in Las Cruces mainly attract nursing students who are about to graduate and have not yet passed their board examinations.
“We give them offers contingent on graduating from their nursing program, and then they can actually start with us under a graduate nurse license,” she said.
“They’ve been given an authorization to practice by the Board of Nursing, so they can come in and begin their orientation process with us, and then they wouldn’t start taking care of patients on their own until they’ve passed their boards .”
Investing in nurse recruitment
Hospitals are racing against accelerated departures from the nursing profession as their systems emerge from the pandemic and lagging enrollment in nursing schools. They are also competing with high wages offered by travel nursing agencies.
Community Health Systems, the corporate owner of MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces, announced Tuesday it is investing $40 million across its network annually to increase pay and benefits, including a program that contributes up to $20,000 to pay off employees’ student loans.
At Presbyterian Health Services, a network of New Mexico hospitals anchored in Albuquerque, chief operating officer Tim Johnsen said the corporation was offering up to $20,000 as sign-on bonuses on a nurse’s experience and the position being filled, as well as $5,000 employee referral bonuses.
Memorial Medical Center, owned by Lifepoint Health, said it, too, has invested in higher pay, referral bonuses and incentives such as scholarships and tuition reimbursement.
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Yet Alexa Doig, director of NMSU’s nursing program, said she advises students to ask employers about other factors — in particular, the entry process, residency and mentoring. Where once a nurse might have weeks to shadow older nurses and get acclimated, Doig said today’s nurses are expected to perform independently almost immediately immediately in some settings.
Johnsen agreed, saying, “Data shows that nurses who graduate from residency and fellowship programs are more likely to stay and thrive in their profession.”
MMC residency Andrew Cummins said nursing Lifepoint’s investments include “training programs through which team members can pursue clinical positions, including nursing One such program, the LaunchPoint Nurse Residency, is the only globally accredited program in New southern Mexico and one of just 201 across the globe to earn this honor.”
Michelle Esqueda is set to graduate from NMSU’s nursing school next week, and has already been offered a job at MountainView. She came to the recruiting event to investigate the opportunity as she considers her options.
Doig noted that roughly 25 percent of NMSU’s nursing students, some of whom commute from El Paso, have job offers upon graduation.
“I had heard during COVID, when new nurses were starting, they were just being basically thrown out onto the floor,” Esqueda said. “They didn’t have a big opportunity to get oriented into it first. So I make sure to ask what their orientation process is like.”
She said Providence had promised eight to 10 weeks of training and supervision under a preceptor, “making sure I have all of the necessary skills and that I’m going to be safe as a nurse. That’s something I think is really important to look for in a position.”
While more money is “nice,” Esqueda added, “I’d rather know that I’m going to go into an environment that I feel safe and will be more prepared for, so I can be more successful in my career.”
Why is there a nursing shortage?
The American Nurses Association traces staffing missing to a number of factors coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, at which point the median age among registered nurses was 52.
The industry was facing a large number of retirements even before the public health crisis exposed healthcare workers to overwhelming volumes of patients ill with a dangerous infectious disease.
While COVID-19 hospital admissions have dropped since the winter, some New Mexico conditions remained full or over capacity early in March and April due to higher volumes of non-COVID.
Also preceding the pandemic was the growing demand for healthcare as the Baby Boomer generation aged. Even so, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing said enrollment growth at nursing schools lagged behind the projected growth in need, with just 5.1 percent growth in entry-level programs in 2019.
More nurses are retiring or leaving the industry (often attributing their departure to back-to-back shifts, workplace conditions and burnout) than are arriving, while others take traveling nurse positions where they may see hourly wages exceeding $120.
New Mexico had the lowest number of registered nurses in the southwest in 2021, per data from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, with 30,571 active RN licenses for a population of 2.1 million.
Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.
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