Why foreign-trained nurses can help solve the US’ nursing shortage


Despite having the largest nursing workforce in the world, the United States is still enduring a nursing shortage. A recent Georgetown University study projects 1.6 million job openings for nurses through 2020.

By then, the same study projects the nursing workforce will face a shortfall of some 193,000 nurses.

While many healthcare facilities have responded to the shortage by partnering with nursing schools and offering hefty sign-on and retention bonuses, the reality is there aren't enough qualified nurses to meet demand.

This leads to more nurses working overtime, which is expensive and dangerous according to the American Nurse Association. Inadequate staffing also leads to nurse fatigue, a big contributor to an alarming 57 percent new-nurse turnover, and a contributing factor in poor patient outcomes.

It's a vicious cycle. That's why foreign-trained nurses are becoming an increasingly popular staffing solution.

Foreign-trained nurses are a highly skilled and accessible resource to help providers address their most acute shortages. But the usage of foreign nurses is nothing new – their presence in the US dates back to 1903. And because they're educated at nursing schools designed to mirror US nursing schools, they're experiencing an identical nursing curriculum as nursing students in the US.

Their English proficiency is tested by rigorous English language exams like TOEFL or IELTS. They can't make it to the US without passing, eliminating worries about frustrating language barriers.

Education is another advantage of foreign-trained nurses. Due to immigration regulations, virtually all foreign-trained nurses arrive with a bachelor's degree. That's especially important when considering a recent report from the Institute of Medicine, which recommends that the proportion of US nurses with baccalaureate degrees be increased to 80 percent by 2020.

Foreign-trained nurses are experienced, educated and extremely versatile. Studies show that foreign-trained nurses are more likely to work hard-to-staff shifts, like holidays, nights and weekends.

Though foreign-trained nurses have proven useful to healthcare providers across the country, they're not for everyone. The reality is they'll require some initial training to get them up to speed. Users of foreign-trained nurses should prepare for an orientation period of 4-12 weeks, which ensures they're acclimated to their new facility's unique clinical processes and technologies, like electronic medical records.

But those providers willing to commit will reap the benefits of a highly skilled, highly experienced and versatile nurse. That's good news, not only for an overworked full-time domestic nursing staff, but for patients as well. Healthcare executives should know that foreign-trained nurses are an effective solution for improved, safer staffing to address the growing shortage of qualified domestic nurses.

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