We know nurses have tough jobs and are always in demand. Now, new labor numbers show our country needs more than one million nurses in the next four years to keep up.
We spoke to hospitals across South Florida to find out what they are doing to recruit and retain the best of the best when it comes to nurses.
Most hospitals offer some type of tuition reimbursement and/or loan forgiveness for nurses.
Broward Health offers signing bonuses up to $15,000 for specialty areas. Boca Raton Regional Hospital also offers signing bonuses in that range for specialties, and will also offer relocation assistance for nurses from out of state.
At Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, nurses can receive signing bonuses for specialty areas, and on-site childcare available to all employees. They also offer a nurse residency program for new nurses, and created the Bethesda College of Health Sciences, a nationally accredited 2-year A.S. degree program for nursing and radiography.
St. Mary's Medical Center, and its affiliate hospitals, also offer some signing bonuses for nursing and scholarship opportunities for children of employees.
Martin Health System gives nurses incentive pay for picking up extra shifts, working nights and/or weekends, and provides relocation assistance and scholarship opportunities.
At Jupiter Medical Center, they are focused on growing their own nurses.
Jamie Granino just graduated nursing school a few months ago and started working at Jupiter Medical Center in April. "It's really fast-paced, you really have to be on your feet as a new grad but I love it, I feel like I'm at home here, I really do."
When she looked for jobs, one thing that attracted her to the hospital is the residency program for novice nurses.
Granino says: "It is huge. When I applied to a few hospitals- this nursing program, this residency for novice nurse program- is one that stood out the most, it really prepares us as new grads."
Steven Seeley is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer at Jupiter Medical Center. He says, "we've really tried to look at how do we grow our own."
He says the novice nurse program, which began a few years ago, is just one way Jupiter Medical tries to combat the nursing shortage plaguing hospitals across the country and right here in South Florida.
He says, "it's a year-long program, they meet on a regular basis to make sure they are on track, to get additional training and education, to help them deal through some of the issues when you're brand new."
Since starting that program, Seeley says their retention rate is about 90%.
Jupiter Medical also offers tuition reimbursement, referral bonuses and competitive salaries. Seeley says, "there’s no one easy fix so you have to try a multitude of things to cater to different needs of different people."
What you won't find there is a signing bonus. Seeley says, "I think that's a very knee-jerk quick fix to the situation. It gets some people in the door, but they often don't stay after the sign-on bonuses finish, they go on to the next signing bonus."
He adds, " the biggest challenge for recruitment is in the specialty areas. Like the operating room, intensive care, labor and delivery. So we’ve created training programs for those areas as well so we’ve hired educators for our operating room because that takes a long time and the nursing schools don’t even give exposure to that anymore."
The Florida Center for Nursing says as of June 2015, there were an estimated 955 nursing vacancies in Southeast Florida hospitals, part of the more than 9,000 statewide.
Nursing schools are constantly full, with most students on a waiting list for at least a semester.
Kimberly Douglas just graduated from Keiser Unversity's nursing program this month, and hopes to fill one of those spots. She says the nursing shortage "obviously lets you know you are guaranteed a job."
She says the atmosphere at the hospital is what matter most to her, not necessarily the perks. "The environment of the unit, the hospital, the fellow workers and nurses, that's important to me."
And her determination runs deep. She says, "it was about 5 years ago when my husband suffered a heart attack and ended up in the hospital for several months. And just seeing the nurses there and how they interacted and how they cared, they were so smart and warm and affectionate so that is what made me say 'OK I wanted to do this for myself, for my family, for my children' and be like that one day."
Back at Jupiter Medical, Seeley says, "we're all competing for that limited resource so you have to make sure your salaries are competitive, you keep up with the market."
Seeley says an aging population, stable economy and wave of retirements all contribute to the nursing needs. He says there are also a lot more opportunities for nurses these days outside of a hospital setting.
That's why he says training new nurses like Jamie is so vital. She adds, "that's what we need as new grads, we come out of nursing school and we go right into reality taking care of people, saving lives."