Staffing challenge: How to manage a new generation of nurses

The healthcare industry is facing an impending transformation in the nursing workforce as Baby Boomers retire and a younger generation fills the ranks.

The upcoming turnover of nurses is daunting. In the next 10-15 years, nearly 1 million RNs older than 50 — about one third of the current workforce — will reach retirement age, according to a recent report by the Health Resources and Services Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The exit of older nurses from the workforce not only may result in a staffing crunch but also the loss of intellectual capital. Having worked in the profession for many years, older nurses have gained insight and experience. Lack of knowledge transfer from one nursing generation to another could negatively impact an organization's productivity and performance.

Of course, retirement isn't the only factor affecting staffing. The healthcare industry is undergoing significant consolidation while at the same time treating more patients as the population ages. An improving economy also means more resources for people to seek healthcare and thus more demand for healthcare services.

As more positions open up and new roles emerge for Millennial nurses, there is much that retiring nurses and healthcare organizations can do to help the younger generation succeed. These efforts can mitigate staffing shortages while ensuring good patient care.

The Younger Generation and Millennial Nurses

Millennials are the generation born roughly between 1982 and 2003; they will account for half of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2030.

Some of the more salient characteristics of Millennials include a high perception of fairness, the need for honest and frequent feedback, an affinity for structure and collaboration, their ability to multi-task, and their desire to take on leadership roles. They are also tech-savvy, having grown up using the Internet and mobile devices.

What does this generation want in nursing? At AMN Healthcare, we've discovered that younger nurses are interested in furthering their education. We recently conducted a survey of registered nurses that showed that among nurses younger than 40, more than one in three want to become a nurse practitioner or enter another advanced role.

The survey also showed that 77% of nurses under 40 said they will pursue a bachelor’s, master's or doctoral degree in nursing in the next one to three years. And 36% said they are currently enrolled in or considering pursuing a degree in advanced practice nursing.

The same survey reveals that more younger nurses are interested in making a career move into a new or emerging role than older nurses. An even greater percentage of younger nurses said they would enter a training program for one of these roles.

Given the Millennial nurses drive to further their careers and seek opportunity, what options are open to them?

Emerging Roles for Younger Nurses

Emerging roles in healthcare that could be a good fit for Millenial nurses include care coordinator. The care coordinator manages patient transitions along the care continuum with the clinical team to ensure the goals of a care plan are met and outcomes are improved. Usually an RN or an advanced practice RN who has completed training is tapped to fill this role.

The care coordinator is a key position for improving patient satisfaction and care quality. In an AMN Healthcare survey of healthcare organizations, respondents rated care coordinator as the second most sought-after new position. In fact, 41% of these organizations are currently recruiting or planning to recruit for care coordinators.

Teaching Bedside Skills and Clinical Culture

Baby Boomer nurses can help the new generation of nurses by passing on skills on how to effectively interact with patients and other clinical staff.

Experienced nurses know how to handle the difficult patient and work effectively side-by-side with healthcare professionals with a wide range of personalities and dispositions. Early career nurses may find themselves ill-equipped to handle scenarios that are not taught in nursing school or which they have not encountered yet in their work. Also, each healthcare organization has its own unique culture, policies and procedures; the guidance of experienced nurses helping the novice learn these intricacies is invaluable.

Patient care delivered by nurses is a unique mixture of clinical and interpersonal skills that can only be mastered through experience. Early career nurses have not yet had the time to develop adequate hands-on experience, while many nursing programs don’t provide sufficient time at the bedside, which means that newer nurses don’t get the chance to develop the skills they need. This is another area where Baby Boomer nurses can mentor their younger colleagues.

Filling Roles and Easing the Transition

Of course, the healthcare industry cannot expect older nurses – who already have their own jobs to do -- to fill all the needed demand for mentoring early career nurses. This is where healthcare organizations can make a difference by developing and offering nursing residencies, mentoring and other training programs for Millennial nurses who need a clear path to success.

For example, nursing residency programs can help create the nursing workforce pipeline needed to provide experienced, quality care now and in the future. Once completed, these longer-term programs enable participants to hit the ground running, quickly becoming an integral part of their unit – both within the practice of nursing and within their specialty, building a solid foundation for future leadership.

On-the-job mentoring, in which older nurses help acclimate new nurses to the workplace, is another great way to provide the structure Millennial nurses need to succeed. Onboarding programs, also under the guidance of experienced nurses, can be effective, too.

The nursing shortage, new and emerging roles and a new generation in the workforce create challenges for the healthcare industry. But these challenges can be addressed by tapping into the experience of Baby Boomer nurses and supporting healthcare organizations to prepare novice and early career nurses for success through residency, mentorship and other training programs.

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