WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Area hospitals are pushing to recruit and retain nurses to try and fill a big gap in our community in an effort to avoid shortages.
As a recent Florida Atlantic University graduate, Mia Garcia is new to nursing.
"I just received my degree in December," she said.
Garcia now works as a labor and delivery nurse at St. Mary's Medical Center.
"I feel like because of the shortage, nurses are definitely needed a lot right now," she said.
It's both a tough time and a good time to become a nurse.
"They're doing tons of jobs fairs. They're providing incentives as sign-on bonuses, health, 401(k) [plans]," she said.
Libby Flippo is the chief nursing officer who oversees all of the nursing care and practice across the Palm Beach Health Network, which includes five major area hospitals.
"It's the bulk of the work [that] I do right now," Flippo said. "It's been a long two years."
Flippo said the nursing shortage has been top of mind for some time now.
"It's been on the radar for quite a while now," she said. "We knew the workforce is aging. The exacerbation did speed up with COVID, where it did speed up retirements probably."
Flippo discussed some of the solutions in the works.
"We partner with the schools, and we all have on different lens today to say the way we recruited, the way we trained pre-COVID, may not be the model that fits today," she said.
Flippo said they are deliberate on how to repopulate the workforce, including a focus on more work-life balance and shift opportunities.
Social media is also a part of the model. Flippo explained recruiting also goes beyond local efforts.
"We are getting involved in international recruiting," she said. "We recruit from outside the state."
One of the ways Flippo said they are dealing with the nursing shortage and recruitment efforts is by highlighting wider hospital networks and opportunities for career growth within.
"We use our branding and the power of our five hospitals to recruit," she said. "That's the beauty of nursing. You come out with this license, but once you have that license, it opens up the doors for different specialties for giving care."
Daniel Sforza, a lead nurse at Good Samaritan Medical Center, said training is also a key focus.
"One issue that we noticed is that during COVID, some nursing schools had to cut back on sending nurses on the floor with actual training," he said. "We are seeing nurses coming out into the actual field with less training than ever before."
Sforza said they've made a deliberate effort and a shift now to get nursing students hands-on in hospital settings earlier.
"They are right up to speed, if not even more developed than they were prior to COVID," he said.
Garcia is among those nurses. She did an externship at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
"[It] bridged me into being a nurse," she explained.
Flippo said there is also a move away from COVID-19 models. For example, they're now partnering with vendors to flip travel nurses to permanent placements.
"What we are seeing across the nursing industry is that is starting to level off," she said. "We have competitive packages for relocation. ... Although the cost of living is going up, and real estate can be on the high end here, there is still the desire to move here because of the access to opportunity."
Hospital leaders explained it's all about trying to stay one step ahead at a time when nurses are needed most.
"I feel like there will always be a need for nurses. I feel as a nation we'll always feel like we are never at that level," Sforza said. "As the population gets older and lives longer, the need will always increase. It's our job as leaders to stay ahead of that need, to make sure that we are always recruiting, always recruiting the best, competent nurses that we have."